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On the Train Again: Alpine to El Paso - MoonScape [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
e_moon60

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On the Train Again: Alpine to El Paso [Apr. 29th, 2009|09:54 pm]
e_moon60
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[Current Mood |accomplished]

After lunch, I went back down to do some work, and at the announcement that the cafe was closing for an hour (it's where you can buy snacks and other things not included in the sleeper ticket--or, for coach passengers, cheaper food than is in the diner) I went back up and over and down again (it's on the lower level of the observation car) to pick up more water.  The sleeper comes with two 8 ounce bottles of water, but I'm used to drinking more in a day than that.  Earlier, I'd bought water and some AA batteries: my CD player had done its all-too-frequent trick of unlocking itself, turning on, and exhausting its batteries by playing all on its own.  When I came back up to the upper level of the observation car from that, we were meeting (thanks to a siding) the reverse trip of the same train...so I could see what we really look like from outside.  Two locos, a baggage car, then these double-decker cars with one observation/lounge car (I just saw a Swainson's hawk!) .  Not all have the roomette windows on the bottom level.  I wonder what they have inside instead.

Going through the Davis Mountains, the rocks are dark red--weathered basalt--instead of the sedimentary rocks earlier in the trip.  Emory oak, a different juniper, grasses (bleached with drought but still grass!) between the big rounded boulders, cottonwood (the western one, not the one we have), willow, etc. along the draws.  The color contrasts of the Davis mountains--the dark rock, the pale bleached grass, the rich dark blue-greens of the Emory oak and the black-green of the juniper, have always pleased me.  Crows rowed across the sky; other birds flew up from bushes, but I couldn't ID them from the train.

After we got out of the Davis Mountain group, west of Marfa, we ran into a delay--a bridge out of service.  We sat in a flat, barren plain with mountains in the distance--the nearest maybe 5 or 10 miles away, some a lot farther.  The family suite was empty and open, and though there was a man in the handicapped room at the far end of the car, there was no one else in my end, the roomette end.  I was desperate to lie down but not quite desperate enough to try making my seats into the bed in here.  Instead, I went to the now-empty family suite, which has a couch the width of the car...with my own pillows...and had a nice rest, interrupted from time to time by thinking the train was moving when it wasn't. By the time it was, a couple of hours had passed and I felt much better for lying down flat.   I also spent some train-not-wiggling time removing the unwanted hair that persists in growing on me (just as it did on my mother).

Meanwhile, the clouds we'd seen over mountains from Alpine grew into a storm dropping visible rain as well as virga (rain that doesn't reach the ground.)  The desert needs rain--so I was glad to see that--and even gladder not to be driving in it.  The track inspector--in a pickup mounted with (on?) railcar wheels--came zipping past us to report on the bridge condition just as the storm got to us--I'd been watching it approach.  (I'll bet he was glad not to have to use the old method--that little flatcar with the pushbar thing we used to see crawling along when I was a kid--two men having to pump it back and forth to move on the rails.)  On the west side of the storm, the wind was picking up clouds of sand--a hundred and more feet high.  I remember my mother driving in a sandstorm that turned into a mudstorm when the rain hit it.  I hope some of that rain gets to our place eventually.  We're not a desert (yet) but I would sure like to see fish in the creek.

I managed to leave all my CDs at home, and in San Antonio's Rivercenter Mall, went into a store that considers "classical" music to include "classical" rock.  Eeep.  But I found goodies.  Last night, I liistened to Anne Sophie Mutter playing Bach, and today (after several rounds of Bach and deciding I did not like the modern violin concerto on that CD) I switched to Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Chopin.  Now the train's trundling along in bright sunlight, scattered clouds, the same desert plain (sand, scattered knee-high stuff on one side and scattered stuff varying from ankle to head high--with nice yuccas--on the other.)   You would not think Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat  would be the right music for this, but it is.  Or, one of the right musics.

Far off to the right is what must be I-10, by the rows of fast-moving trucks on it...have I mentioned how glad I am not to be driving...?  And now there's a big overpass, buttressed with great concrete ramps.  the wind is gusting, and sands being blown in visible veils here and there.  ...And we're stopping again.  Again, not near anything useful. Mourning doves spooked from the wires just flew off.  To the right, I-10 (I'm guessing)  with 18-wheelers spaced out, and tiny dots of cars in between them.

We're stopped on the last siding before the bridge that was out, and are waiting permission to go over it at walking pace.  So says our conductor.   If this land were in good shape, there's be less bare sand  and more shortgrasses and a desert crust between...The most distant mountains to the SE are at least 40-50 miles off, blue silhouettes on the pale horizon .  I think some of this is western wheatgrass, but it may be cheatgrass instead. There's a midgrass near the tracks that's got seed stalks over knee-high; the green stuff showing at the base of the bunches is maybe shin-high on me....aha...now we're crawling ahead. Definitely walking pace.  I kind of wish the locos were pushing...if we drop a front loco into a ditch, even a small one, I will spend a weekend here...where we are, there's no paved road nearer than I-10, way over there (the length of an 18-wheeler is the width of my little fingertip, held about 24 inches away.  A mile?  Two?  Five?)  I wouldn't want to have to hike over to it.  Could do; don't want to.

There's a berm of sand about 4 feet high pushed up to keep runoff in flash floods from washing over the railbed (I think that's what it's for.  Now there's some grass and a lot of yucca...and now a ton of dead mesquites.  One of the white-flowered native mustards (I think it's Lepidium species from that I can see out the window) has white flower spikes all over it.

I could also kick myself for not bringing the colored pencils and some paper...every time we stop there's a distant mountain that begs to be sketched in light color.

Now we're doing the "creep over the repaired bridge" thing.  They MEAN walking pace.  I could walk this fast.  On the rocks of the road-bed. A big dust devil just crossed in front of us, going fast.

I can see the repair crew ahead  This is an arroyo bridge...and I just applauded the repair crew standing there watching and giving  us thumbs up to try it...T   Guys in the orange safety vests, out in the blowing sand, fixing these arroyo bridges so we can get over them safely. Arroyos out here are cut in sand...sand with no bottom (within reach anyway) and when there is a flash flood (like last year) it scours all before it.  Keeping arroyo bridges in repair is much harder than some others.  And it was not an arroyo I would've wanted to fall into...It was a good ten feet down and wider than the car is long, I think--nearly, anyway.  We're now picking up speed to the triumphant part of Chopin's Ballade in G minor...perfect!   And as we reach speed, the twinkly bits...and we're approaching I-10 at an angle...maybe to get through a pass...and here went went under I-10 and over another highway and now approaching another rail line--and what a smooth junction.  Old adobe church on the right...mission style.

One rail line just diverged and took a sharp curve off to the north somewhere.  And one just came in from there...my guess is a private branch to load cattle.

Went back to work on book for some miles--railroad sensibly took the flattest route it could find with mountains somewhere else (along the river, and coming in from the north.  By suppertime we were in El Paso, only one hour late--and made very close to an on-time departure by using up some of the slack built into the system (longer stops, including at El Paso, where we paused only long enough to pick up passengers.)

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: gunhilda
2009-04-30 04:18 am (UTC)
Love your descriptions! Was the train pretty empty, or were there a lot of other passengers?
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-04-30 04:29 am (UTC)
The dining car was usually full when I was there for a meal, and there were always people in the observation car when I went there, upstairs and down. I didn't visit cars besides my own, the dining car, and the observation/lounge car, as I wanted to do some work and also rest. My sense was that the train was fuller eastbound than westbound, but I could be wrong. Certainly *my* small area was fuller coming out of LA than heading for LA from San Antonio, and the baggage rack in the car was fuller that trip as well. But I got the sense that ridership has gone up markedly.
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[User Picture]From: masgramondou
2009-04-30 06:18 am (UTC)
I must find an excuse to do this trip it sounds amazing. And if Amtrak no longer suffers the "stuck behind the broken freight" problem it means I could actually trust the train to get me somewhere when I want it to so it might not just pure holiday

(On my 2nd or 3rd long haul Amrak I took my wife from California to Denver and back - we were 4 hours late at Denver but a monster 24 hours late getting back to Sacramento).
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-04-30 01:53 pm (UTC)
I don't know how long it will last, but the Amtrak folks were delighted to be on or ahead of time on arrivals and prove that it wasn't all their fault--being able to make freights get out of the way was a huge help. They were less delighted at the prospect of rail money being spent to build a highspeed link between LA and Las Vegas, instead of upgrading more rail infrastructure and funding the staffing of stations and trains. I heard from the Austin Amtrak person that they've been hoping for funding to staff stations so more of them can handle checking luggage, for instance.

But I'll definitely be on a train again in the fall.
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[User Picture]From: msminlr
2009-04-30 10:55 am (UTC)

rail-mounted pickup trucks

They have sets of retractable track-following bogies mounted ahead and behind the regular wheels. I think all of GM's (at least)trucks are built so their wheel gauge exactly matches standard railroad gauge. One of my favorite scenes in Niven & Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer depicts a couple of characters following a just-barely-submerged rail embankment driving a GMC Jemmy.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-04-30 01:54 pm (UTC)

Re: rail-mounted pickup trucks

I remember that scene vaguely--did they have the bogies, or just balance on the tracks?
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[User Picture]From: msminlr
2009-04-30 10:14 pm (UTC)

Re: rail-mounted pickup trucks

No bogies. This was an off-the-lot Jimmy. The driver was just going on feedback through the steering system.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-05-01 03:34 am (UTC)

Re: rail-mounted pickup trucks

That could be...interesting, on wet rails. Might want to deflate the tires a little.

Not something I'm going to try. First, there are no rails nearby. Second, I'm not that skilled a driver. Shanks' mare or one of the idiot equines out there in the barn would have to do.
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[User Picture]From: cdozo
2009-06-10 05:37 pm (UTC)

A Beginning, A Middle, And...And...And..?

I just pulled your train trip posts up so I could send them to Rich, and I discovered that you may have forgotten to post the last of your trip posts to LJ. I can find them on sff.net, but not here.

You may or may not care, but I thought you might like to know.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-06-10 07:22 pm (UTC)

Re: A Beginning, A Middle, And...And...And..?

Thanks for letting me know, but I don't think I want to go back and post about that this long after the trip.

For one thing, I now have two editors who can think of things for me to do, plus the book in progress. (I like both of these editors, you understand, and I'm quite willing to do what they want, but it means I have other priorities than hunting up an old post on sff.net and porting it over here.)
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