At 1:35, 25 minutes before scheduled departure, the line starts moving and, with it, begins my 8200-mile rail journey around the entire US. This will be the first leg, a two-night trip across California, Arizona and New Mexico to New Orleans.
When you travel by train, the passing scenery always offers snapshots of extreme variety. There is all the natural beauty, of course, which comes with amazing variety. But there is also the unusual and even the bizarre. For instance, as we flash through a small town, I spot a sign on a cinderblock building that reads, “Hot Dog Push Carts Trailers”. How’s that for a niche market!
Smoking is off limits on all Amtrak trains, and when we come to a stop in the Pam Springs station, a handful of smokers desperate for a few frantic puffs, step off the train and into a blast furnace. It’s 105 degrees and a strong wind driving sand and dust causes most passengers to retreat back into the air-conditioned train.
Underway again, I notice that a seemingly endless row of ironwood trees has been planted parallel to the tracks, no doubt as a barrier against that awful wind and to prevent sand from piling up and covering the tracks.
The next major town we pass through is Indio, California, and a half hour later we run along the southern shore of the Salton Sea. This is actually a saline lake, about 35 miles long and half that wide, fed by two or three rivers and what little rainwater runoff there is in these parts. Despite the dry barren look to the landscape, we pass orange groves and hundreds of date trees.
I’m enjoying quite a good steak in the dining car as we depart Yuma, Arizona, and by 9:30 a.m. propped up against two pillows on the bed in my roomette, reading a book I bought in Los Angeles. By page six, I find I’m reading with my eyes closed and snap off the light. The rest of Arizona slides by during the night.