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Technically, it’s called the California Zephyr, but AMTRAK offers plenty for the Silver State enthusiast.
Photo: Sunny Minedew
Two long. One short. One long.
This train signal has been part of the sounds of Nevada for more than 100 years and, like mining, is an intimate part of the state’s heritage and infrastructure.
Sadly, however, a majority of Nevadans have never been on a train, much less know the rich resource at their fingertips.
AMTRAK’s California Zephyr chugs across Nevada from Chicago to Emeryville, California, and back, offering Nevadans a charming overnight to Winnemucca or a day trip to the Reno area from the rural outposts.
With a late afternoon departure from Reno, eastbound passengers pass names and places of Nevada’s past (Preble, Prince Royal, and Star City) and, depending on the time of year, are treated to glorious sunsets before reaching Winnemucca, the town founded by Frank Baud after he arrived in the early 1860s to work on the Humboldt Canal. If the passenger has not sampled the cuisine in the dining car, then there is time for Basque dining or steak offerings around town.
Should one not choose to spend a day exploring the history and sights of Winnemucca, an early o’clock departure brings passengers back to the glass cubicle station while the train makes a 10-minute crew change and proceeds west under dawn skies, depositing the traveler back in Reno early enough to go to work.
For those coming from Wells, Elko, or Winnemucca, the wee-hour departure provides time for completion of their nocturnal routine, gently rocked back to sleep by the click-clack of the rails. A full day (or more) in Reno is capped by dinner on the return train and another slumber on the way home.
Reflective of much Nevada landscape, the lands between Reno and Winnemucca narrate sudden fortunes as well as dashed hopes. For a century and half train lines have traversed the Great Basin landscape, moving product and people, connecting to a web of other lines that have come and gone.
The overnight escape to Winnemucca from the west or day trip to Reno from the east provide adventurers with several tracks to satiate their senses.
For the visual, a stupendous slice of Great Basin natural landscape almost crawls into one’s lap. Whether seated in the Vista-Dome, a private cabin, the dining car, snack bar, or general coach, ample windows provide dramatic geology, two distinct rivers, and unique Nevada communities. Weather and season ensure an ever-changing panorama; the trip is never the same and easily documented by photograph/video.
For the sound-oriented, there is the rhythmic cadence of the rails, the announcements by train personnel, as well as the digitally generated safety check reports every few miles.
For the cerebral, there is historical reflection about what was a major Indian trail and the Humboldt River that became the path of pioneers following land lust or dreams of mineral wealth in the era of Manifest Destiny. From Reno to Fernley, the rails parallel the route of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, one of the first projects spawned by the Water Reclamation Act of 1902, the largest federal public works program after the Railroad Acts, exemplary of the “Age of Agriculture”.
Whether temporarily stopped to allow a freight train to pass, experiencing the whoosh of cargo trains bound in the opposite direction, viewing box and flat cars “parked” at strategic points, the transition and importance of rail to the Industrial Age is apparent. And that the whole experience is monitored by a computer system in Omaha is exemplary of the Information Age.
For the verbal, there is the opportunity to have anonymous conversations or the chance to form life-long friendships with other passengers who may be someone residing in your neighborhood or one of many travelers from places around the world who have chosen to visit the expanses of United States, safely transported in one of the metal tubes careening from point to point on the remaining network of passenger rails.
There are few opportunities to combine such intense physical and mental stimulation with the same relaxation in a 24-hour trip rooted in three centuries. All aboard!
National Train Day
Reno Amtrak Station
280 N. Center St., Reno
Start Time: 8:15 a.m.
End Time: 4:30 p.m.
Event Description: Come to Reno’s second annual National Train Day. There will be bands, chorale singers, drawings, model train exhibits, booths, and great food. Also, greet the California Zephyr as it arrives into the famous Reno trench. Watch freight trains as they pass under the viewing platform, and visit with others who love trains and their rich history.