An Even Wider View

Recently I posted about the challenges of landscape photography and the thought and planning it takes in A Wider View. Today I thought I would share something a bit more touristy – no thought of the light being right, no aperture settings, no shutter speeds – just me and my iPhone.

I love to play with the panorama feature. I can shoot panos with my good camera, but it requires stitching them together in another program, so there’s no instant gratification. With the iPhone you just get a good footing and rotate. Sometimes the bumps show up and the exposure settings are based on that first frame, but it can give you a sense of the vastness of a place. Go ahead and click on the images so you get a better sense of the panorama.

20130527-125037.jpgThis is the first panorama I took, it’s in the observation car as we traveled along the Columbia River towards the Portland station. There is a bump in the middle – trains experience bumps, but it does give you a sense of what that car is like in the morning.

20130527-125055.jpgThis is Klaloch, in my earlier post I shot the two sides of the beach as separate images – the panorama really compresses the scene when you are up high like this. The scene was much more open than this, but it does give a good sense of the height. A stunning place.

20130527-125114.jpgWe took a ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville to cut a few hours off our trip to Northern Cascades and Mount Rainier. I shot this on the deck. The process is pretty cool, it’s basically a floating parking lot. The air on the sound was wonderful as it blew across the decks, like the ocean without the waves.

20130527-125131.jpgDeception Pass, this was another spot that was elevated – again, it compresses the space. It does give a sense of all that’s going on at this spot, rocks, cliffs, bridge, island, water – you really can’t get this all in one traditional shot.

20130527-125718.jpgMount Rainier above the Nisqualy River. This spot was amazing for more than the mountain and the river – the sound was wonderful too. So I took the opportunity to record a bit of it, using my iPhone again, so that I could experience it any time I like.

20130527-125301.jpgAhhhhh, Crater Lake. I shot this right next to the lodge. I had to climb up on a short rock fence to get a view over the snow bank. No photos capture the full beauty of this spot, but I’ve looked at this one over and over reliving the details.

20130527-125504.jpgOne last look at Crater Lake, I shot this at the vantage point above Wizard Island – it was as far as the rim drive had been plowed. This has the distortion created by the pivot, bit it does shot the lake surface like glass, the clouds in both the sky and the lake, the snow, the pines – pretty much everything but the cold air.

Sometimes it’s good to put the kit down and just be a tourist.

The Empire Builder

The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s most popular cross-country route. It crosses 8 states and takes two full days. I have been wanting to ride it ever since my first train trip last year. We met a group from Texas who raved about the scenery and the wildlife. I immediately put it on my bucket list.

My sister Karen and I boarded in Chicago – you can see more of our tour of Union Station in Chicago here. Traveling by train is a totally different experience. Boarding is low stress. In Chicago they have a lounge for sleeping car passengers, so you can drop your bags and do a bit of sightseeing before you board. You show up 30 minutes early and the conductor scans your ticket in the lounge. You walk out onto the platform and a car attendant helps you settle in. No long lines, no TSA, no stress.

20130518-170941.jpgThis is not our train, the diagonal stripes indicate it’s a regional or commuter train. With two large suitcases in tow I just couldn’t get a shot of ours. The boarding process is quick – maybe 15 minutes total – and your adventure begins.

20130518-172502.jpgThis is Charles – the consummate host. he was our Car Attendant, but before the journey was over he would become a friend. Our first trip featured a Car Attendant, Pete – who was thorough but detached. He carefully managed all the rules for us and always had a thick notepad in hand. He was helpful, but not personal. Charles was nothing like Pete. He had filled an empty sleeper birth with snacks, magazines, blankets, and even chilled champagne. A frequent traveler on this line saw Charles and begged him to get his berth changed to ride in his car – he assured us we had lucked out.

Charles was a single dad from Jamaica. he was raised in Detroit and had recently moved home to help care for his mother. He had been with Amtrak for over 40 years – he knew everything about the kitchens, the car births, the stops – he clearly loved train travel and his enthusiasm made our trip even more special.

20130518-171105.jpgAs we settled into out Roomette we watched the grit of Chicago fade into the distance.

20130518-171141.jpgEvery 2-4 hours during the daylight the train stops for 10 minutes for a “smoke break”. The Empire Builder only makes a single service stop, and that is late at night when passengers are sleeping. There is no time along the route to get off and go into a station, there is also no warning that the train is leaving. You stay close so that you can see your Car Attendant shepherding his charges back aboard. Karen and I collect railroad nails that are scattered along the tracks. We tried to get some in each state. This was Milwaukee – Charles noticed this and made sure that we had nails from every stop, even if we were asleep. Eventually we had so many that we secretly dumped the extras somewhere in western Montana when Charles was otherwise occupied.

20130518-171156.jpgEven in the Milwaukee switchyard opportunities for macro shots arise.

20130518-171226.jpgOur first evening started with steaks in the dining car and ended with this sunset as we crossed the mighty Mississippi. We followed the river for the next 450 miles.

20130518-171248.jpgCharles popped in to tell us that he had made up a larger room for us, since the larger cars were empty on this trip, he set us up in a large sleeping car with a larger bed and our own bathroom. Actually, he allowed us to leave out things in the Roomette – essentially we had two rooms at this point, one on each side of the train. This shot was the last light as we crossed into Minnesota.

20130518-171419.jpgKaren took the top bunk. I slept on the couch that converted into a bed. Since the window was on my level I spotted the first light somewhere west of Fargo, North Dakota. I took several shots as the sun reappeared, but even though this one has no focus I loved the color and light.

20130518-171504.jpgKaren refers to the windows as movies. We awoke to watch a movie called North Dakota. Not exactly an action film, but the melting snow and ponds will stick in my memory as a picture of the state for me.

20130518-171513.jpgAfter breakfast we took up residence in the Observation Car – the “movie” screens are larger in here. Karen and I started the day trying to figure out how to shoot throughout the windows and get as few reflections as possible.

20130518-171532.jpgThese doors were a constant sight for us. We were in the last car on the train. The Empire Builder terminates in two cities – Seattle and Portland. The train is set up so that the front half contains the Seattle coach and sleeper passengers as well as the dining car. The back half contains the observation car and the coach and sleeper cars bound for Portland. In Spokane the train is split and a new engine added to the back half. Having the observation car and a cold breakfast was definitely the better option since we railed in along the amazing Columbia Gorge.

20130518-171637.jpgBeing in the very last car also allowed us to look out the back window from time to time. This was taken during a smoke break in Eastern Montana.

20130518-171709.jpgIn remote stops the stations are simple small buildings and the grounds are filled with parts that could be needed for repairs on this long journey. So many of the passengers on the Empire Builder are traveling from city to city along the route – it’s economical and easy to get from Fargo to Haver, Montana. The Builder is a lifeline between these small cities, and we met many passengers who use it frequently.

20130518-171758.jpgOf course, it’s hard to photograph a train you are on, especially knowing that you could be left behind if you didn’t make it back on in time, so I would occasionally shoot trains in the station – this is a Burlington Northern engine. I’m partial to Union Pacific trains, but that orange on the open plains was pretty eye-catching.

20130518-171825.jpgDay 2 in the Observation Car was amazing. Karen gets her gear in order. Today we will cross the Rockies, Glacier National Park, and the Continental Divide. The “movie” for today – Montana!

20130518-172126.jpg There was a good sized group of Amish travelers on the Builder. I spoke with one of the younger men at the snack bar below deck – he was so excited to see the Rockies for the first time. They brought their own food and spent lots of time with us in the Observation Car. At one point a young man from their group connected with a hipster who had been sitting across from them staring. He urged the hipster to come sit down and they had a nice long talk. At first the hipster spoke down to the young Amish man – assuming he had little knowledge of the world – their conversation ended with one of the most eloquent and thoughtful presentations of the Gospel I have ever heard. Both men left respecting each other. On a train there is time to connect like that.

20130518-172358.jpgA park Ranger boarded right before we entered Glacier National Park – he even brought a Parks Passport Stamp with him – score! The sun was very bright and created glare on the windows, so good shots were not easy to come by. I have read the weather has to be a perfect match of sun and clouds with no fog to get really great images. This one was my best. Sometimes the image just needs to live in your mind, and on this trip so many did. We saw more elk and deer than we could count towards sunset. Waterfalls, mountains, lakes, stunning beauty lay at every turn.

At the stop before the park 4 passengers assumed the train would wait while they went inside the station to buy souvenirs, they were wrong. They would get to experience Glacier tomorrow with strangers as they headed towards a reunion with their families. There was a grumpy man in our sleeping car whose wife was one of the four. He blamed Amtrak, Charles, and everyone except himself or his wife. By the time we left the park she had been located and put up for the night. They were traveling without a cell phone (crazy) and Amtrak managed to get messages back and forth to them at each station. Honestly, I believe that woman probably had a more peaceful trip the next day.

20130518-172423.jpgAs the crowds thinned after we left the park this young girl remained looking for someone to play cards with. She travels on the Builder a couple of times a month with her grandmother who cannot make her way between cars. She has the run of the train. When this gentleman tried to teach her a card game she paid no attention to the rules and floated off after a few minutes to lite in another booth, a butterfly that catches your attention for just a moment and moves on. She is growing up on the Builder.

20130518-172441.jpgOur last smoke stop on day two was unusually long. Amtrak officials were getting word to loved ones about the missing 4 and we got to spend sometime looking for Montana nails as the sun began to set.

20130518-172608.jpgSunset over our sleeper car.

20130518-172630.jpgSometimes you can get exceptional color by shooting the sky in the opposite direction of the sunset. All in all this last stop was perfectly timed.

In the morning we would awaken on a shorter train moving along the Columbia Gorge. The Builder follows the route that Lewis and Clark took towards the sea – what this land must have looked like to them – majestic, wild, diverse – seeing it a couple hundred years later it still has the power to inspire.

I had mentioned to Charles that the next day would be Karen’s birthday. He had been talking to her about birds, Karen has a business caring for exotic birds, ¬†and he came to call her the “bird whisperer”. I had imagined candles on a muffin or something to start off her birthday. Charles outdid himself – in the morning he delivered a sweet card, a blown glass bird (does he pack this stuff in his luggage just in case?), and a bottle of Washington wine – above and beyond!

20130519-111342.jpgPortland Union Station – another jewel, but with bags in tow I chose to leave all but one of those images in my heart instead of my camera. Go by Train, it really is the best way to see and experience America.

All Aboard! Union Station Chicago

Chicago was the starting point for a cross-country adventure that my sister just returned from. We both have a fascination with trains and last year we took our first cross-country trip on the California Zephyr from San Francisco to the halfway point in Denver. This year we decided to do the most popular route all the way from start to finish. The Empire Builder begins in Chicago and ends in either Seattle or Portland. I was excited to start a voyage like this in a real classic station. Union Station in Chicago, is one of the grandest still in operation.

20130516-111540.jpgWork began on this massive 10 city block complex in 1913 and it was finally opened in 1925. It’s exterior is massive, but the subtle detailing hints at what you will find inside.

20130516-113124.jpgThe door handles on the entries have steam era train wheels as a part of the motif. Union Station is all about the details.

20130516-113350.jpgThese brass flowers adorn the lamp posts on the main floor – each one is a piece of art.

20130516-113408.jpgElegant brass handrails are worn smooth with almost a century’s use. The ornate supports retain their fine detail.

20130516-113424.jpgMassive Corinthian marble columns support the Grand Hall’s vaulted ceilings.

20130516-113447.jpgMarble Stairs worn by millions of footsteps can be treacherous today.

20130516-113521.jpgThe vaulted glass ceiling floods the floor of the Hall with natural light.

20130516-113544.jpgThis is the massive staircase that you enter onto from the street level.

20130516-113559.jpgTo All Trains – from the Great Hall floor your are now below street level and can enter the gates for boarding.

20130516-113650.jpgAs grand as the Grand Hall is, it is just a facade. You get on the train here, below grade on a dark platform.

Even if the platform lacks the impressiveness of the station, boarding here is a real experience. There is a special lounge for sleeping car passengers and boarding is almost stress free, especially compared to air travel. A station like this prepares you for the grand voyage ahead filled with purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. A pretty good way to start the journey of a lifetime.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure

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Back in July my neighbor, Mary Jane, turned 99. Her friends and neighbors pondered about what to give her. Last year we bought her an air conditioner, the year before a new TV, the year before that a digital antenna. She lives simply in a country cottage on dozens of acres with just the basics – electricity, TV, her cats, and some pet raccoons – and at this date she still lives without running water. Typically we buy her something that will make her life easier. The air conditioner was a tough one to get her to accept, but during this years drought she has fessed up to appreciating it more that she had imagined she would.

This year we decided to send Mary Jane on an adventure. We pooled our funds and decided to buy her an all-day train trip. Mary Jane’s father was a telegrapher at the local train depot at the turn of the 20th century and her stories of childhood are filled with tales of train rides and the adventures that comes with them.

Twice a year the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad makes an all-day run from Seligman, Missouri to Van Buren, Arkansas. You meet at dawn in Seligman, which is nothing more that a few business and civic buildings.

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They don’t have a depot there anymore so you board at the end of a path through the woods…

Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.

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There was no hiding his excitement about the Hogs’ chances later in the day!

This is the Dining Car – there are a few options but we decided to go first class! This car dates from the 1940s. There are Coach and Club cars that are about 100 years old. If you want to have a more authentic train man’s experience the Caboose is available too – it’s a restored B&O caboose with no heat or air conditioning included.

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Roomy and nicely appointed.

We settled in and the Conductor and his crew gave us hot coffee and danish. Mary Jane had a cup of coffee before as we pulled out of Seligman.

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Our party consisted of myself, Mary Jane, Barbara, and Sondra – both of whom are long time friends. They have known Mary Jane for years.

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I first met Sondra at Mary Jane’s 90th birthday, she does historical drama – she studies a woman from history and creates a script to convey history in a very believable way. That night she was dressed as Mary Jane’s aunt Meg – I remember she never broke character and I got a better sense of Meg hearing the stories in the first person.

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We had barely started down the tracks when Mary Jane rotated her chair away from us – her plan was to watch every bit of the trip facing forward – up on the East side, back on the West.

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We picked up the caboose at Springdale Arkansas. The neat thing about this excursion is that they hitch and unhitched cars. You get to see first hand the process and shuffling it takes to run the line. The dining car started on the back of the train. Before it was over we would be on the front. Here the family who has booked the caboose waits with anticipation to move into their new digs.

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The conductor turned off the parlor lights as we approached the Winslow Tunnel – the kids in the car squealed as the tunnel lights wizzed by in the windows.

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Next the conductor let us know that he would be able to take a few of us out onto the platform as we crossed the tressels. I jumped at the chance, knowing that this is a view Mary Jane could not get from inside the car.

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As I stepped towards the door I spotted the car brake – these details were really everywhere in the car.

I got out on the platform and leaned over the side to shoot ahead – I grabbed a bit of color and prepared for the tressel coming up.

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You can see the drop off in this shot.

Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.

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Those are treetops below us!

Another angle…

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Looking through the rails below us.

The caboose has a cupola on top….

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Makes a great platform for photography opportunities.

I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.

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Again I hung out over the side of the platform to get a shot of the entire train.

As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…

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The brass hardware on the outside of the car.

After a gorgeous trip through the Boston Mountains we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas. We had lunch, pie, and wandered through a street fair. I set out to shoot a few of the railroad’s details as we relaxed and waited for the train to return to take us home.

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Crossing

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Van Buren reflected in the crossing light.

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Station signal

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Loose nail (as tempting as this one was, I did not pick it up. No nails from this RR in my collection – I swear)

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The switch

While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.

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Mary Jane is actually pretty adroit at working the iPad. She found a few she liked.

I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.

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If I was being honest I’d have to confess to carrying a pocket watch and wearing Union Pacific earrings. I almost put on my striped overalls that morning – good for him, he had the nerve to go there:)

We heard the train whistle in the distance…

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Mary Jane was ready to roll!

Our trained had departed after dropping us off at the station and returned to Springdale to for another run while we enjoyed the afternoon in Van Buren. The trained pulled into the station, dropped off the passengers, dropped the caboose, transferred it to the opposite side, and shifted the engine back to the front.

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Here we get a view of the engine operating as a switch engine.

The light had begun to change…

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Here’s a view of the dining car ceiling fans in the afternoon light.

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Barbara settled back in for the return trip.

Mary Jane found a seat…

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She explained how the switching process worked…

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And turned her gaze forward to take in all the sites on the voyage home.

On the trip home some passengers in our car had a birthday celebration for a family member complete with cake. The children insisted on singing to Mary Jane too…

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The conductor joined in…

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The whole car sang along…

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And Mary Jane ate cake.

She called me first thing this morning to reminisce about her favorite parts of the day. The weather, the cake, beans and cornbread for lunch, friends, photos, the whole day. She said it was just perfect.

Ancient American Mysteries – Carhenge

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As Karen and I sped across Nebraska hoping to find the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument we stumbled upon something truly special. Our GPS directed us to take something called “Cut Across Road” which doesn’t appear to exist. It was getting late so we decided to stop and the next town and call it a night. We hit Harriman, Nebraska at about 5 and asked at the gas station to see if anyone could help us find the park. Not only could they not help with directions, the gas station attendant let us know she had never heard of the park. She also let us know that she had no gas and that Harriman had no motels. We asked about the next town and she warned us that Crawford had even less to offer than Harriman, “There’s nothing there!”, she warned. “Go to Alliance!” We took her advice and trekked the 30 miles towards lodging, gas, and information. Once we hit town Karen thought we should cruise the town to check our options. We stopped for gas and I noticed a brown sign (all passport stamp seekers look for brown signs) that said “Carhange – 1/2 mile”. I had heard of Carhenge – I read something about it back in the 80’s in People magazine, so I told Karen that we HAD to go there! She accepted that I was the expert and we headed down that country road hoping to see something truly amazing – we were not disappointed!

For the most complete experience I recommend that from this point on you read with the sound of Leonard Nimoy as narrator in your head…

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Isolated on the Nebraska plain – what can it mean?

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Made from ancient building blocks like this 73 Vega – who would have had the technology to build this?

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It appears to be aligned with some specific axis. It must have been some ancient super race that built it. Their knowledge clearly exceeds that of our society. Analysis of the parts indicate that they were some how moved here from Detroit, Michigan! How is that even possible?

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Time and the elements have taken their toll on the site – this Caddy is slowly sinking into the plain.

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Facing directly east the opening between the monoliths elements clearly points to another clue.

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Facing west the sun sets beyond this ancient and obviously hallowed place.

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The mystical structure is even more mysterious as the sun sets.

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A random tribute against the evening sky – a salmon leaps from the unfamiliar Nebraska ground.

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Karen ventures north to the shrines offered to this mysterious place.

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The fins of an ancient caddy reach up to the Nebraska sky.

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Karen hurries back to the monolith to capture the sunset through it’s ancient pillars.

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The colors of the evening sky illuminate the mysteriously rust-free surfaces of the monolith. I am certain that this is just as the ancients intended.

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The ancient snack bar in the distance must have provided sustenance to the race of men who built this.

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Sunset and mystery – what a conundrum!

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From the east I wonder if this Vega is pointing to Vega?

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What kind of civilization would have so expertly placed a Willys between a Gremlin and a Volare?

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This close-up does little to solve the mystery – no pins or notches hold these structures together!

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An ancient dinosaur stands guard over what appears to be the “rosetta stone” of Carhenge. Will this solve it’s mysteries?

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Apparently some ancient sage believed that foreign cars would end our civilization. I wonder if his descendants drive Hondas?

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A last look back at that snack bar fills us with wonder – we need to find someplace to grab dinner!

When we finally checked into a hotel we found that no one in Alliance had heard of the Agate Fossil Beds either. As I fell asleep at the Holiday Inn, I couldn’t help but wonder if some strange force had lead us to this place of mystery…

Starting in the Middle

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a couple of years now. I would think about how to start it and how it should be organized. Every time I started to write I think about how my story should be organized, how it would make the most sense, how it would evolve – all the while writing nothing. I thought about what my influences were, what got me started, my first camera – organizing this and making sense of it stopped me from starting. I may talk about those things someday, for now I’ll just start from the middle, the very recent past.

In my professional life I am highly organized, I’ve been told its a rare trait for an artist. In my personal time I tend to get the most out of more spontaneous things, enjoying experiences as they happen.

I just got home yesterday from a series of wonderful spontaneous experiences. My sister, Karen and went on a train trip followed by a week of zigzagging across the plains and mountains visiting national parks.

Side bar – Karen’s really my sister-in-law, but a few years ago she just started referring to me as her sister – I love that, I have wanted a sister since I was about 3. I used to pretend that I had a sister named PeeWee (our chihuahua), I told friends at school about her and her adventures in our backyard – Karen is much better than my imaginary sister, and she’s quite a bit taller and doesn’t shed.

Our adventure started with a train trip. Karen and I were both devoted to my Grandpa. He was a Union Pacific employee for over 35 years. Karen and I have collected train memorabilia, hunted railroad spikes, and even chased down trains in the desert. Neither of us had been on a long train ride (my only train ride was in Disneyland), so we decided it was time to give it a try. We embarked in Emoryville. Being a train geek, I was excited to so close to trains and tracks at the station.

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If you’ve never traveled by train, I highly recommend it. You show up at the station, print a ticket at a kiosk, go to the track and get on your assigned car. No lines, no luggage screening, no TSA agents. Just get on the train. We checked our tickets and walked right onto car 631.

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As soon as we stepped onto our car we were greeted by Pete, our sleeper car attendant. He stowed the luggage and settled us in. He insisted on helping us even with small things. Karen is really a “people” person so she set out to learn a bit more about Pete. He wasn’t giving anything up and even squirmed about having his photo taken. This only made us want to know more about him. Karen quizzed other train staff for clues, asked Pete seemingly unrelated questions, and made unreasonable requests – Pete never flinched or gave up anything except that he loved trains and was an expert on the history of the California Zephyr. Here’s a photo of Pete reflected in a window of the door of our sleeper car.

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A little about our accommodations – we had a “room-ette”, a car built for 2 that has facing recliners that convert into a lower bunk and a shelf that drops to create the upper. It’s compact but efficient, pretty comfortable for a small space.

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Karen wasn’t sure about all the buckles, she assumed her sleeping accommodations were verticals and complained that the seatbelt was not very comfortable.

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Once Pete prepared our beds, Karen checked out the top bunk. Once again the utility of the safety features eluded her:)

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Seriously, traveling with Karen is a blast. She find humor in the strangest things.

The thing about traveling by train is that there’s lots of room to move around. From the sleeper car you can walk from car to car, passing through the dining car on the way to the lounge. The lounge is spacious with large booths and comfortable recliners scattered throughout. It’s a great spot to take in the scenery and try and take some photos. The scenery is one of the great things about riding on the train, looking out the ample windows is like watching the most amazing nature show. Wildlife, cities, farms, scenery – all passing into view. I almost hated to sleep for fear of missing some of the show.

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