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BEACON Senior News

The joys of chugging along

May 23, 2023 11:21AM ● By Rhonda Wray
I recently had the delightful privilege of traversing this breathtaking state of ours by train, from Denver to Grand Junction. While I’m very thankful I can drive, it’s not on my list of favorite activities. And as flying has grown increasingly unfun, it was a welcome relief to travel

Our train, the California Zephyr, runs between Chicago and Emeryville, in Northern California. The route is just over 2,400 miles long with 35 stops along the way, including six in Colorado.

After leaving Denver’s Union Station, we rumbled west through the six-mile darkness of the Moffat Tunnel. We emerged to the ground blanketed white, truly putting the winter in Winter Park (and I was doubly thankful I wasn’t behind the wheel). We got a 10-minute “fresh air break” in charming Glenwood Springs, which wasn’t nearly long enough. I’d love to stroll its streets and bask in its hot springs.

Sitting in the observation car and gazing out those giant windows was a real-life nature film. Enormous rock faces, forests, cabins and wildlife vied for attention. The internet was spotty but that didn’t matter. I’m the queen of queasy, but I didn’t even feel a flicker of motion sickness. What I didn’t do was sleep—my FOMO (fear of missing out) kept me from it. The train treats you right, from the fresh roses to the delicious food.

The people made it even better. The personable conductors take time to chat. A precocious kindergartner sitting nearby filled her princess journal with lists of creatively spelled words.

“Sound it out,” she admonished us, when we had trouble deciphering her intent.

There were only two mishaps. One was a boulder on the tracks. The other occurred when my coworker and I were on the lower level of the train by the small café/store. We heard a metallic crunch and turned to each other, saucer-eyed—something on the track knocked the air hose off. But the competent crew treated them as minor inconveniences, and we were soon, well, back on track.

My grandfather was a railroad man. We took the train from Fort Madison, Iowa, to La Junta, where he and Grandma lived, a handful of times. He began as a switchman for then-Santa Fe Railroad (now Amtrak) in 1942. His starting salary was $7 per day.

“I thought I had all the money in the world,” he wrote in his life story. Due to a labor shortage, he often had to work 16-hour shifts. Two years later, he saw the regular 3-11 p.m. yardmaster stumbling drunk into a tavern.

“I’ll bet the phone is ringing at home,” he told his family. It was. The errant employee was fired and Grandpa moved up to become yardmaster for 32 years.

Eight unhurried hours later we reached our destination, where spring gave the landscape a glow-up. Grand Junction’s trees were abloom, and tulips waved a welcome in the gentle breeze.

A slow and meandering pace suits me. The destination is wonderful, but so is the journey. Amid the world’s need for speed, I hope the train will remain. There are tickets to buy and
trips to take.


It’s hard to believe July is almost here! So here’s your reminder to look for the BEACON next month when you’re at your favorite Life After 50 pick-up spot. It’ll virtually look the same so you can’t miss it! Until then, you can check out fresh content— including this month’s stories—on our new website: