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Travel | Travel Inspiration
I Took Amtrak Across The Country

HERE'S WHAT MY RAIL JOURNEY WAS LIKE—THE ROUTE, ACCOMMODATIONS, AND SIGHTS

I've always eyed Amtrak as potentially being a fun experience. I've planned trips on their website countless times, but always held back due to the travel times. Two Amtrak trains, bound for Chicago, pass through my hometown around 3:00 a.m., which I decided was a not-so-fun time to embark.
  

Therefore, when finalizing trip plans, my travel companion and I decided to bypass our hometown station, trading the 7-hour journey to Chicago for a 50-minute flight. We joined up with Amtrak at Chicago's 1920s-era Union Station.
   
Amtrak Southwest ChiefRoute map for the Southwest Chief. Courtesy of Amtrak
  

THE ROUTE

For our inaugural journey, we chose the Southwest Chief. This historic route follows the path of the old Santa Fe Railway's Super Chief, which debuted in 1936. Our trip included disembarking in Albuquerque, NM, after 25 hours. The entire route, to Los Angeles, CA, totals 43 hours with two nights on board.
  

The route is serviced by Superliner, with sleeper cars offering roomettes and bedrooms. Passengers in the sleeping cars can access the dining car. In addition, all passengers, even those from coach class, can utilize the sightseer lounge.
  
Photo by by Benjamin Szweda  
     

DAY ONE

You'll find typical airport amenities inside Chicago's Union Station. We arrived early to check out Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge, which sleeping-car guests can access. We peeked inside, and the lounge looked nice and modern, but it was closed. The replacement lounge was crowded and worn out, so we wandered the Great Hall, where the grandeur of the building shines.
  

Boarding was simple, with staff stationed along the platform to guide you. We found our car, stowed our luggage on the lower level, and ascended a staircase to our cabin. The roomette featured two facing seats, which folded out at night to form a lower bunk bed. Another bed folded down from above to form an upper bunk. While not as modern as business class on an airplane, the roomette was spacious and comfortable.
  

The train departed on time, just before 3:00 p.m. As we gained speed, the car attendant came to introduce himself and answer all our first-timer questions. The manager of the dining car came by later to take reservations.
  
Dinner on the trainPhoto by by Benjamin Szweda 
    

Time passed quickly with books, board games, and the wine we brought. Soon it was time for a short walk to the next car for dinner. The two servers were excellent, the company of the two solo travelers we dined with was enjoyable, and the food was delicious. I chose an appetizer of empanadas, salmon with lemon caper white wine sauce for my entree, and lemon cake for dessert.
  

Most stops along the route are brief, sometimes for just a minute or two. There are a few stops throughout the journey that allow passengers to get off the train and stretch their legs. Kansas City was one stop that spanned almost 40 minutes, so we got off and explored the station, plus the adjacent city. By the time the train departed, it was nearly 11:00 p.m. and time to go to bed, which was the part of the trip that had me the most apprehensive.
   
Inside the trainPhoto by by Benjamin Szweda 
     

DAY TWO

I was up early. During the night, I did wake up a few times, from a rough part of the track or the train's whistle. The bed was comfortable, and my six-foot frame fit just fine. While I could have slept better, the morning brought a stunning sunrise that eased the night's restlessness.
  

I chose an omelet for breakfast and an Awesome Burger for lunch. The highlights of the second day were the views. We snagged two seats in the sightseer lounge and stayed there most of the day. This route is typically mentioned in listings of Amtrak's most scenic journeys, and it lived up to expectations. The tracks pass through Kansas at night (Arizona, too, if continuing to California), but the daytime scenery is stunning.
  

My favorite part of the trip was after crossing out of Colorado into New Mexico. From Trinidad through Raton, the route showcases expansive landscapes and curving tracks. In fact, from the observation car, you could actually catch a  glimpse of the engines as they rounded the bend. We even passed the Raton Tunnel, the highest point on the Santa Fe Trail.
 

THE BOTTOM LINE

The ride could have been smoother and the cars could have been more modern, but the hospitality offered by Amtrak's staff and the views provided by Mother Nature made for a great excursion. Train travel through middle America is a one-of-a-kind excursion to see lands you'd likely never see otherwise.