Amtrak Rockies Region Transit Adventures

A Roomette’s Good Night’s Sleep Through Nevada from Salt Lake City to Truckee to Snowless Squaw Valley

The original plan when me and my Dad planned this segment of the trip back in November was to ski Alta for two days and then ski Squaw Valley for two days, take an Amtrak Roomette to Truckee and then ski Squaw Valley for two days. These two ski areas are both included on my Mountain Collective pass. Unfortunately Squaw Valley is having a massive drought and had had virtually no snow this year. The only runs open are those that they can rely on snow making for. At Alta/Snowbird on the other hand it snowed about two feet over the weekend making the skiing there ideal, 3 days before (to not upset our NARP/AAA discounts) me and my Dad decide to look into pushing our trip to Truckee back a day to get three full days of skiing Alta/Snowbird. I check Amtrak and discover that Roomettes on the California Zephyr are still at the same low-bucket price. The lodge that were staying in at Alta also has availability so we push our trip back to Trukee a day. The only thing that costs us is eating a night of our hotel at Squaw Valley. I end up calling Amtrak to modify the reservation (its just easier than trying to deal with the bugs on their website). I think the price is the same but apparently its now one dollar more, they’ve raised the price of our Roomette from $104 to $105 that will quite appreciate after a day of skiing. I find it really funny asking my Dad for his credit card (I tell the agent he’s present and he believes me) to charge the extra dollar. The total time (including a brief hold on the Select+ line) to change the reservation is 3 minutes.

The Trip (January 15 to 16, 2014):

My Dad and I have three amazing days of skiing at Alta and Snowbird with plenty of good snow and quite a bit of fresh powder. The lodge is maybe just a quarter full, since this is still the slow season. Among other people, we meet two ladies from San Francisco who go to Squaw all the time to finally have decent snow.
Our last day of skiing comes to an end. This is my Dad and I’s third annual trip to ski Alta and stay at the meals included Alta Purivian lodge. In the past two years we’ve always left after a day of skiing, my Dad taking JetBlue’s red-eye home. The plan was to take the last SkiBus out at 5:30 after relaxing and showing for a final hour at the lodge, unfortunately I’ve broken my glasses and need to get them fixed. There is luckily a lens crafters downtown that’s open until 9:00 but just to be safe I decide we should take the 4:36 bus.
We head out to the stop outside the lodge at 4:30 and are joined at the stop by the same manager of the lodge we chatted with last year who commutes on the Ski Bus. The sun is in a dangerous position of cars barely able to see us. At 4:39 we have the option of taking route 954 (that makes just one trip per direction a day) to the Midvale Fort-Union Station that takes I-80 in places and will get us closer to downtown. We see the bus going down to the Goldminers Daughter before it comes back up for us, arriving a little late at 4:40.

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The bus arrives with two Alta employees and three Québécois speaking French, one with a broken leg, bandaged up on the seat that he wares like it’s a badge of honor, we make the usual stops at Snowbird and only pick up a few more passengers. The bus goes down the Little Cottonwood Canyon and I’m hoping we might make the 5:38 FrontRunner train just for the hell of it (it will be a free transfer too) for a slightly faster 9 minute ride into downtown, our scheduled arrival time is 5:41. The bus is early enough that we sit for three minutes “Waiting for a timepoint” as the driver says when I ask at the 200 S & Wasatch Blvd Park & Ride. The bus gets to Murray Central at 5:40 and I see the FrontRunner Train I want to catch pulling away. I’m happy to see its up to four cars with 3 BiLevels and a single level ex-New Jersey Comet again. A red line train is just arriving and we quickly Tap-off and then back-on, my Dad using a new UTA FairPay Card I spent $3 on before the trip. I use a chip encoded VISA credit card I have in my wallet to avoid having to deal with change to make the free transfer. We take the Red Line to Courthouse and switch to the Green Line at Courthouse, getting off at Arena.

There I visit the LensCrafters in the mall built around the former UP station and drop my glasses off (and pay for) the repairs. My Dad and I then wander around for the half-hour deciding on dinner since we have tons of time before the 11:30pm departure of the California Zephyr that is running on time. We stop and look at the menu at La Jolla Groves, the fanciest restaurant in the mall (with cheep prices to us New Yorkers). A hostess all of a sudden runs out with a card for a free appetizer or dessert. We go and pick up my glasses and decide on La Jolla since we think it will be the slowest restaurant in the shopping center. We enjoy a three-course meal that takes us until about 9:00. While walking we’ve noticed that the Starbucks is open until 10, I head over there with my Dad and park him with my luggage.

The one thing on the SubwayNut agenda this evening is getting some photos of the new North Temple Bridge/Guadalupe that’s now open. My camera died on Sunday just before I got there. I head over and have a nice 20 minute walk getting photos of the staircase/escalator complex before going back to my Dad.

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We leave Starbucks just before it closes around 10:00 and head over to the Amtrak modular station that doesn’t open now until 10:00pm.

We get to the Amtrak station around 10:15 and pick up printed tickets for our trip tonight and also ask the agent for printed tickets for our thruway bus connection from Truckee down to Sacramento on Friday. She insists on stapling each of these eTickets into it’s own ticket sleeve (that my Dad later in the trip thinks are brochures and not tickets).
The conductor soon comes circling the station scanning our tickets and giving out boarding passes directly to us as we sit down. He says “Your in the Roomette directly behind the diner.” We will let you board nice and early 15 minutes prior to departure.

The train arrives at 10:33, nice and early. We head outside and find one addition to the station. They have added a black maze area so boarding passengers can form a line. We head out to our sleeper sitting in the Salt Lake City Station(4 Photos) at 10:55 and are immediately greeted by a cheery attendant who asks us if we need help with luggage and want a wake-up call for breakfast. The answer is no and no. I notice there is a single low-level car of private varnish on the back of the train

We board the train and leave my large backpack and my Dad’s suitcase in the downtown rack and head upstairs. My Dad is tired enough that he asks me where the bathroom is and gets straight into bed in the lower bunk. My Dad gets claustrophobia and is paying for the ticket, I think he’d hate the upper bunk so I take it. I change into my pajamas and climb up into upper bunk and decide to read for a bit. Since I’m in the upper bunk I have no window. At 11:30, on time I feel us starting to move and continue reading before soon turning out the light.

I soon fall asleep and wake-up again around 1:30 MST. I see were in the last town in Utah, near Wendover.
At 5:47 PST I’m awake again as were stopped in Winnamucca, I’ve completely slept through Elko the only other intermediate stop, my Dad is too. I look down and he tells me he’s sitting up enjoying the view and apologizes that he took the lower bunk and that I don’t have a window. He would hate the coffin like upper bunk, he gets claustrophobic.
I maybe doze off one more time but around 6:45 I finally get out of bed and head downstairs to take a shower.
At 7:15 we head to the diner for breakfast with two people traveling alone in coach both going to Sacramento, one to visit family, the other to get out of cold Glenwood Springs. I enjoy the omelet with another odd vegetable filling of onions, asparagus and tomatoes plus a biscuit and of course bacon. My Dad has the scrambled eggs with bacon that he says are small and poor.
After breakfast around 8:15 we slowly head up a wide canyon full of houses towards Reno. During breakfast there are a few garbled announcements. The PA in the dining car clearly

  • 8:21 – Head into Sparks, we get the announcement for Reno. They announce we’re adding a Union Pacific freight engine here in Reno (I guess through to help us through the pass?). I assume the garbled announcement was about adding a helper engine in the Sparks yard and that we would be delayed there.
  • 8:25 – Pass through the yard
  • 8:31 – Pull over and stop mile from the station to wait for our UP helper engine.
  • 8:35 – Our helper UP locomotive zooms by.
  • 8:39 – We start moving and switch into the south track at Sutro
  • 8:41 – slowly go down into the trench that removed the tracks from downtown.

The train arrives in Reno(16 Photos) at 8:43, my first stop is seeing what Private Varnish is on the back of the train. I walk to the back and find out its UPP #210. The car is painted in UP Colors, has a number of solar panels and the name Mobile Laboratory.


I then head up to the front of the train and see UP Locomotive #3295 (I don’t try and get a decent locomotive photo) getting attached to the front of train.

I reboard to no power around 9:00.
We regain power at 9:10 and I see two conductors on the platform. We lose power again at 9:14. Me and my Dad read in our cramped roomette, if I had more time on the train I would have gone to the Sightseer Lounge.
We regain power and finally leave at 9:24 with a double toot from the freight locomotives horn that sounds different, were 50 minutes late.

  • 9:27 – The California Railway museum volunteers announce there aboard and to comets the lounge for their narration (at least it’s not being broadcast to the whole train) as we leave the trench and houses of Reno. We have a roomette on the south side of the car and the sun is glaring.
  • 10:06 – See a sign on I-80 that we’re entering the city limits of Trukee.
  • 10:13 – Get the announcement that their making two stops, one for the coaches up front and then the sleepers in the back. For one moment I wish we were in coach so I could maybe run up for a locomotive photo of our two P42s and UP locomotive.

We make the first stop at 10:21 and sit there, waiting to pull up. The train finally pulls up and we step off at 10:22. The attendant puts our suitcases down on the platform for us. There is one other person getting off with us and the attendant has only grabbed his skis, not his suitcase so there is a slight delay as the suitcase is found.

The train finally departs at 10:27, 50 minutes late as I get a picture of the train rounding the curve out of Trukee.

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The next hourly TART Route 50 Bus is at 10:30 so I save my photo essay for later and we quietly go make this bus.

We take the bus to Squaw Valley, deciding with so little snow, just the runs open that have snowmaking, not to bother to ski today. This is the sad lift status board, only a few runs open:


In the afternoon while my Dad goes for a run I take TART down to Tahoe City and enjoy some views of Lake Tahoe:

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