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A much-needed and restful trip

The Examiner

I apologize, as I have been out of town for two weeks. It was time to visit the grandchildren.

I traveled to Idaho to see Ashley and her family of seven, and to Utah, to visit Jared with his family of five.

Diane Mack

How did I get there, might you ask?

I took the Amtrak train called the California Zephyr.

The California Zephyr runs from Chicago to Omaha, to Denver, to Salt Lake City to Emeryville (San Francisco), and back again.

For this trip, I boarded my train in Kansas City, at Union Station. I had to go east, before I could go west. Leaving KC, I traveled northeast to Galesburg, Illinois. There I caught the California Zephyr to head to Salt Lake City.

This is my most favorite Amtrak ride.

In fact, in my opinion, the Zephyr is the most beautiful train trip in all of North America.

Imagine for a moment, traveling in a comfy seat (twice the size of any airline seat) across Missouri to Galesburg, Illinois.

For those who don’t know, Galesburg was one of the locations of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

I’ve traveled to Galesburg enough to know all of my favorite places in town.

If you visit Galesburg, plan to eat at the Landmark Cafe, where the crepes are delicious.

Also, try to visit Community Treasures, a small second-hand store that employs special needs’ individuals.

Normally, in Galesburg, you have about four hours to walk around town before the Zephyr arrives. Then, the relaxation begins as you check into your bedroom.

With a tummy full of crepes, I unloaded my suitcase, grabbed an Amtrak blanket, and settled down in one of the two large cozy chairs to read a book.

Around 9 p.m., the chairs become my bed and I’m headed to la-la land and Denver at the same time.

By the next morning, we were in Denver, where we had an hour to walk around the station.

After a nice outside break, the train whistle blows, and we board the Zephyr to begin our climb over the Rockies.

Amtrak passengers are privileged to see sections of the Rockies that are impossible to see in a car or on a plane.

I have a favorite conductor who knows the route well. He can pinpoint the exact location of an eagle’s nest filled with chicks.

The train runs alongside the Colorado River, where passengers can wave to numerous whitewater rafters – and the rafters moon us right back. There are times when I’ve been in the observation car, a car where the windows stretch from the carpet to the ceiling, and I saw more of the rafters than I bargained for. In fact many of the passengers identify the river as “Moon River” instead of the Colorado.

I do try to book my Amtrak ticket at least six months in advance, especially when I want a bedroom. This rail time is very precious to me.

I get a break from caregiving and a daughter, whom I love dearly. I also get a break from 12 staff and a somewhat lively home.

If you travel on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville, the ride is a total of 51 hours 20 minutes. For those who require wheelchair and walker accommodations, the train offers coach and sleeper accessibility. It’s relaxing. It’s peaceful and calming.

Although this trip was different, because we had no cooks on the train. Normally there are cooks, who prepare three meals a day. Instead, this time, we had TV dinners.

Why? It was due to Covid.

How I missed the pre-quarantine Amtrak gourmet meals.

I also learned beginning next month, the California Zephyr and  several other cross-country routes will be reduced. Instead of running seven days a week, it will only run three.

I’ve heard that some of our legislators don’t feel we need trains.

They obviously have never ridden a train.

Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at Director@jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org.