For a different, but equally scenic, ride jump aboard the California Zephyr at Denver's Union Station and head West of 105 - literally.
Once dubbed “the most talked about train in America," the California Zephyr is one of the most beautiful train trips in the country, and the Colorado portion of the journey is the best part.
As the train heaves out of Denver and starts its journey west, the landscape quickly changes as you begin to climb into the Colorado Rockies.
Just under three hours after departing from Denver, the train arrives in Winter Park, the so-called “icebox of America.” Skiers use the train in winter to get straight to Winter Park Ski Resort from downtown Denver. The resort is also the portal for the 6.2-mile Moffat Tunnel which cut the distance between Denver and the Pacific coast by 176 miles when it opened in 1928.
Next is South Boulder Canyon which sees the Zephyr pass through 29 tunnels before eventually meeting and following Fraser River through the remote Fraser Canyon. There is a brief stop at Granby which is followed by Gore Canyon. Its steep walls ascend 1,000 feet on each side over the river, which has Class V whitewater, so look out for kayakers and rafters. You will probably get plenty of waves (you may see more than that as rafters have been known to bare their backsides to the train). The train carries on to Dotsero, the midpoint of the journey.
Glenwood Canyon is perhaps the most beautiful part of the journey. Rugged and scenic, the 12.5-mile gorge on the Colorado River is the largest canyon on the upper Colorado River. The high cliffs are dotted with aspen and evergreen trees. Glenwood Springs is next and is a great place to stop. Located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers, the area is very popular with lovers of the great outdoors. There are also six world-class ski resorts within a 60-mile radius of the town, mile-upon-mile of mountain bike trails, whitewater rafting, backpacking trails and Glenwood Caverns. Wild West legend Doc Holliday spent the final months of his life here.
Palisade and De Beque take those enjoying the Colorado portion of the train towards the end of the line. Palisade is known for its peaches and vineyards (read more about wine on page 58), while De Beque is a center for projects to protect the remaining wild horses and burros in the area, which includes construction of a public corral for care of injured and sick mustangs awaiting adoption.
Finally, the train pulls in to Grand Junction. Colorado National Monument, a series of canyons and mesas similar to the Grand Canyon, watches over the city and is a must see if you have time. Powderhorn ski resort is nearby, too, as is Grand Mesa, one of the world's largest flat top mountains.
As an added bonus, the California Zephyr operates the Trails & Rails program between Denver and Grand Junction. The program is a partnership between the National Park Service and Amtrak and offers passengers that chance to listen to and ask questions of the ranger that travels on the train.
The entire route of the Zephyr takes passengers between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, but for us it begins in Denver and ends in Grand Junction - or vice versa. The train leaves Denver every day at 8.05 am and is scheduled to arrive in Grand Junction at 4.10 pm. The return journey leaves Grand Junction at 10.23 am and arrives in Denver that evening at around 7.10 pm. amtrak.com
Photo: Bryan Bechtold