Hello from Colorado Springs where my trip of actual traveling has fully come to a close (I’m here for two weddings).
Wednesday began with me sleeping in a bit until 9:00 and relaxing in my room, having a disgusting breakfast of donuts from the day before. At 10:00 I go downstairs to check out and leave my bag at the front desk. My first destination of the day is free the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art which I enjoy the contemporary collection of, particularly a modern exhibit of photographs of an artist who had different people (strangers and friends) sleep in her bed for seven days straight photographing them. I leave that museum and go to the smaller – Museum, which is also free. At about 2:00 I reclaim my bag and take the MAX (buying another day pass, its the price of two trips that I will probably take) down to Union Station. I get to the ticket office to two extremely friendly agents who I chat with about eTicking, they’ve both worked for Amtrak since the 1970s and said that when the QuikTrak machine was installed it resulted in two jobs lost of other agents. There both worried a bit about their jobs with eTickets and us young people only wanting to use machines. There titles have been changed from Ticket Agents to Station Customer Service Representatives (or something ridiculous like that). She doesn’t print my ticket saying “Why worry about losing it”? As I spend $3 day checking my bag. If my trip was a day trip I would check my bag but I don’t want to carry my ‘pillow’ and blanket around all day.
After checking my bag I wander around Union Station a bit more and flash my Transit Museum Membership for free admission to Science World which includes the KC rail experience. It’s kind of a little kid railway museum and the rail experience is a few displays that need updating on how railways work. There meant to have some cars on display on two tracks but these are closed, the cars have been moved off site for refurbishment. I also go to the model train display (included in my free admission ticket) which is a bit better than the terrible one in Chattanooga which made me realize I don’t enjoy model railroads enough to pay to see them. Next I discover the bridge from Union Station across to the freight house building which has little slats that provide an excellent place for photographing trains. I photograph Train #311 as it arrives with the same three cars as yesterday. I then go over to the – rib house to have a late lunch. The 50th Anniversary couple from Kansas City told me to go there for them, its delicious but one of the more expensive meals of the trip at $16. At that point I go back and cross the bridge back to Union Station and photograph the same Amtrak trainset now wyed and reversed preparing to leave again as Train #316 back to St. Louis. There is one more attraction I want to go to in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Museum. I walk over there and get there at about 4:15, its open until 6:00pm. I pay the rather steep $8 admission fee and have a decent wander around the little museum which looks non-professionally done and a bit homemade with exhibits that could use some updating, particularly the fact that the number of blacks in baseball has declined today.
I decide to take the bus back into downtown and end up wandering up to a path along one of the rivers, its a neat path with lots of railroad lines along it. I get off of it to try and get back into downtown and realize I am entering a bit of an industrial wasteland it’s a sidewalk-less walk up a hill to the nearest Main Street MAX stop which I board for Union Station. I want to explore Crown Center a bit, the modern shopping/office center around the station, and also find dinner. I get to one of the food courts which is basically deserted and end up at the only open restaurant, a sports bar, and get in just before its kitchen closes (remaining open for cocktails) at 9:30 for a quick grilled cheese sandwich. I take the various sky bridges across local streets and get back to Union Station at about 9:50 and see a ton of boy scouts waiting for the train (to get to Raton for the scout camp there I bet). I then have an adventure in the halls of the closing Union Station trying to find an open bathroom (which also gave me a nice chance to explore various random halls of the station).
I end up at the ticket office at about 10:25 (the train leaves at 10:45) after boarding has begun with no one in line definitely within the 10 minute/5 minute rule (ticket purchasing/boarding) that this station has because of the long walk out to the platforms. I go up to the ticket window and present my baggage check tag and ID to get my ticket printed. I am greeted by another old but incredibly surely Amtrak employee. She tells me “You were supposed to be back to pick that up by 9:30, you should be happy I am still here. I’m going to have to yell to the day shift.” She does get me my backpack and when I then say I still need my ticket printed she says that the day shift wasn’t supposed to check my backpack without a ticket (Holding onto the ticket for the day was my original plan).
I then go out to the platform where there is nice large line of people but no sign of the coach attendant to tell us which of the three coaches to board. I wander and get some pictures in the darkness of the Other Missouri River Runner trainset which has already been wyed for tomorrow morning’s trip and waits across the platform. I chat with a lady on line who is on a 15 day pass (spent $45 to change her departure day for her leg to Flagstaff). I just did the math on my recent 16 days on Amtrak, with 8 segments and including the low rail fare portion of my eagle sleeper and realize the pass might have been better for this trip and might have saved me $20. Finally the conductor comes and we are asked to put our luggage in the Coach/Baggage which is the last car of the train and are told to sit in the lounge car because there no seats available. On a day trip I would say don’t worry about it but I want to sleep. We leave Union Station passing the other Missouri River Runner trainset which has four cars. My ticket hasn’t been lifted yet. The train slowly leaves Kansas City, following a road with just streetlights. I look at my phone and realize I am deep in Kansas, another first time in a state. There is a nice large BNSF freight yard off to one side of the train. The yard is enormous and very slow going. We start and stop and at 11:02 as my ticket is collected.
At about 11:30 the attendant comes and says she has a seat for me and walks me back to the middle coach. Towards the front of the car (the lights are all still on) I am first assigned a seat next to a fast asleep Latina girl which I think might be manageable for sleeping. I stow my computer bag at the seat and I go back to grab my backpack from the rear Coach-Baggage. When I get back the attendant moves me. She wants girls sleeping next to girls, assigning the traveler I was talking to to my original seat. I do slightly understand the attendant (do I look like a non-trustworthy guy?), but I am assigned the worst possible aisle seat. It’s right across from the staircase (which has to have its lights on all night) next to a man watching a movie on his laptop. The attendant finally gets around to turning off the lights shortly before midnight, far too late which does nothing really for us sitting across from the fully lit staircase, hearing far too much thumping. The car is too hot for a change so putting my blacket over my head doesn’t really work. I attempt to grog out listening to my iPod but am very much awake as we pull into Lawrence, at a modern platform across from a few BNSF locomotives and then a BNSF brick building at 11:49pm, 3 minutes early, not quite enough time to try and hop off for a photo. The station has a neat blue neon sign. I hear the man next to me’s soundtrack between songs.
At midnight the man next to me puts his computer away and asks the attendant if she can dim the stair lights. She says she will ask the conductor. They are never dimmed.
I decide to try the lounge and contemplate Kansas as the conductor comes through saying Topeka is next. I see a few buildings as we slowly enter passing a large BNSF freight yard. We slowly enter a large depot 7 minutes early with a nice long canopy. I try and do the lying across three seats in the lounge trick (at least I can look out the window, unlike in my asile seat) by am awake for the following moments:
- 1:31 – Emporia, a discontinued stop with a large well lit freight yard. Another train of double stacks pass us as I try and remember where we leave the BNSF trans-con for the branch line via Raton they want to let deteriorate
- 2:31 – arrive Newton and then continue to in front of an old brick depot at 2:34, arriving 11 minutes early. A train comes through going the other way of hopper cars. I know might be able to step off but know it will just make me wake up more and I’m trying to doze off as much as possible, I need to be awake tomorrow.
- 3:17 – get to Huntington with a modern station building made of brick, only 3 minutes early
- 5:18 – I am asleep and wake up siting on the edge of a fenced off platform, it’s Dodge City, a quick crew change point and I am too late to step off. As soon as we leave the sun rises on the short grass prairie.
- At 6:16 CT the conductor actually says to me good morning time to get up. There a few people in the car eating their breakfast but I’m surprised I got as much sleep as I did in the lounge.
- 6:25 – get to Garden City in front of a brick depot, the first stop were actually late into by 4 minutes, some Amish/Mennonites get off. There a few sets of empty seats in the front car where most of the Nebraska passengers were but I am actually scared I might oversleep and know not to dare move my seat check. It’s overcast out and there isn’t a sunrise. My coach is now cold.
- 6:46 – go through Holcomb who’s houses go on for some time.
- 7:19 CDT – Syracuse, Kansas. The last town in Kansas
- 6:48 MDT – Granada, Colorado a small little town and we continue through the shortgrass prairie
- 7:07 – stop in Lamar with a nice brick depot used as a colorado welcome center and a modern fenced off platform with a gate someone (not the conductor) opens
We slowly keep going through the Prairie with 1 hour to La Junta. See a number of deer and rabbits. Pass some cows but it’s mostly just empty rolling parties. Keep seeing doe. I chat with one of the scout leaders going to the camp near Raton for ten days of backpacking, resupplied every three. I ask and find out the trails on the ranch are totally private since insurance won’t allow people to wander in from the adjacent national forest. They will be backpacking without fires, the danger is too high. There from St. Louis and I wonder if the evening River Runner yesterday got an extra coach just for them.
7:46 – go through Las Alamas, the final town before La Junta
I get to La Junta at 8:04am and step off the train. I am immediately annoyed with Amtrak’s website. The brick building which is shared by Amtrak as a station and BNSF railway as a crew quarters is open Monday to Wednesday until 1:00pm (before reopening in the evening for Train #4s departure) but Thursday thru Sunday now closes at 10:00am. There is no one in the office (they are all out servicing the train) and I want to get a picture of the Southwest Chief leaving (although the light is terrible, straight into the sun). I walk to the end of the platform and get a locomotive shot before walking across the platform and open my iPhone to find the nearest grade crossing is only a quarter mile away which I notice keeps going up and down without a train in site. I get there and see a BNSF Hi-Railer and a man in his orange vest working in the control box. I tell him I am there for a picture of the train and he asks me if I am a railroad buff. I say yes and she says he is one too every since he was a kid. He is a little surprised I am not planning to continue riding the Chief but tells me just to stay back. At 8:26 I hear the all aboard double-toot and on time at 8:30 the Chief is off. I get my pictures of it leaving and then chat a bit more with the grade crossing maintainer who is stunned I’m from New York and lets me get a picture inside the crossing shed. He is doing a one month inspection, every used grade crossing in the country gets a bigger inspection every 90 and 120 days, and a much fuller overhaul every 360 days. Never quite appreciated how much work goes into keeping our grade crossings safe and passable.
I then wandered back to explore the little business district of La Junta and went out to breakfast at the one obvious breakfast place in town. At that point it was ten o’clock when Uptown Video, the local Greyhound agency but not the actual stop, Greyhound’s website claimed to be open. (Second time today hours have been wrong). Turns out it opens at noon which is still enough time before my 1:25 bus to buy my tickets. I then go and take a walk a little bit to a small city park just south of downtown before walking back to the one cafe that I noticed in town, Barista. It was the perfect place to spend an hour on the internet before shortly after noon went I went across the street to still closed uptown Video. At 12:10 a mother and teenage daughter showed up to open and at 12:15 I was inside having one of my most amusing ticket purchasing experiences. I explained that I thought it would be cheeper to buy two separate tickets, one from La Junta to Pueblo and then Pueblo to Colorado Springs. They agree with me and preform that transaction giving me tickets that look like Greyhound’s except they say Prestige Bus Line’s (out of Wichita, Kansas) on the top. This is the operator of Bee-Line Express, my first bus of the day, a states (Kansas and Colorado) subsidized route.
I then walk out to the local America’s Best Value Inn, a little over a mile east of town. I get there a little before one and the receptionist invites me to sit in side in the air conditioning. There is a little leaflet of the bus on the front counter. The only problem is the Maury Show about relationships gone bad is glaring in the background which I really can’t stand. At about 1:10 I go and wait outside. The 1:25 departure times comes and goes before the receptionist comes out to tell me that the bus driver called and is running about a half hour late, he mainly calls when he is late to see if there is anyone waiting, I am assured that the bus will come and stop for me. I start wondering about my connection to Colorado Springs, don’t know if its guaranteed.
At about 1:48 a bus pulls into the edge of the parking lot and honks at me. The bus leaves at 1:50, the destination sign says Denver but I am told this bus will terminate in Pueblo and the connecting bus will wait. The bus is painted for Prestige Bus Lines but has the modern leather greyhound seats with seat bets and more importantly power outlets as my phone is dying. There is the little blue Greyhound Dog similarly inset along the edges of them The drivers hat has a neat bumble-bee on it. The back of the bus as the Recovery Act logo since the Kansas Dot purchased the bus. The bus has maybe 20 people on it as we go down US-50, a 4 lane highway. I have to step over a guys feet in the asile, we pass a water tower which says Swink and then a huge feedlot.
At 2:09 we get to Rocky Ford, where one passenger is escorted into a different uptown video to buy a ticket, the driver gives me a hand written Greyhound bag tag for Colorado Springs which he places on my bag beneath the bus.
The bus continues to Pueblo continuing through a few more small towns. As we enter Pueblo the bus driver makes a rather long announcement that the Greyhound bus will be stopped behind us and that if that bus is full, we have priority seating as connecting passengers compared to those originating in Pueblo. He also thanks those passengers who have gone all the way for their patience when the bus just died in the middle of Kansas and luckily was easily restarted. We arrive to an outdoor stop on the edge of Pueblo’s Transit Center (still using RTSs) at 3:10 with no sign of a connecting bus. I took the bus through Pueblo once before and remember the Greyhound Station being off in the suburbs, I like this new downtown location with plenty of connecting buses (Greyhound probably doesn’t have to pay a dime for it either). At about 3:20 a Greyhound bus arrives with a quite friendly joking driver, he loads our luggage with the help of the other driver and at 3:30 we leave Pueblo, I am on a quite full bus with a seat mate. It is an uneventful ride up to Colorado Springs where I arrive at 4:20, unhappy to be late but am picked up immediately to go off for a bachelor evening that I won’t be blogging about.