All aboarrrrrd -- to Reno! Sunday, Feb 21, 2016
Jimmy and I have wanted to ride the California Zephyr to Reno ever since we knew we could, which is close to four years. But we thought a train ride through the Sierra Nevada Mountains would be ever so much more scenic during winter with piles of snow atop the mountains. Seems like we ushered in a drought when we moved to NorCal in June 2012, because the Sierras have seen very little snow since our arrival! Till now. With our enthusiastic guests, Tom and Diane, we purchased R/T tickets to Reno for Sunday, 2/21 with a return on Monday. This would be a highlight for the four of us during their NorCal stay, especially for our Tallahassee friends -- you can imagine they don't see much snow in Florida!
We picked Colfax CA as our embarkation point because it had ample, easy parking, unlike Roseville or Sacramento and its a short (tho hilly) 15 miles south of Nevada City. Colfax is a tiny town of 2,000+ residents, and one of the former glory towns of placer mining days.
A couple of Ravens were playing "dare" on the tracks!
The Zephyr stopped in Colfax at 12:21 pm and deposited us in Reno at 4:06. Just the right pace for us.
We left our house early enough to walk around the old town, which has some interesting, fun art/murals scattered about. The old train station houses the Colfax Museum, chock-a-block full of STUFF. Not much of anything was open on a late Sunday morning. Around Noon, we ate our packed lunches on the train platform, comfortably seated on benches. Quite a few other folk showed up, everyone ready to board. The day was really fine, bright blue skies with mares tails a-flying.
You just never know what you're going to learn. Who knew this scrap of info? Enlarge to read.
Colfax, at 2400', was sporting a stunning array of blooms already. Soon we'll be seeing snow!
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The train was full. We had assigned seats, which we didn't particularly like, but couldn't change. The lounge car was full every time I checked it. No matter. My only gripe was the dirty windows -- wash the durn things, please! The train rolled along, lurching occasionally. Above we crossed the juncture of Hwy 20 and Interstate 80, a place we instantly recognized, as this is where we get on/off the freeway when driving to/from the mountains.
The Zephyr passed through a number of tunnels and/or snow sheds on it's way up to Donner Pass.
Ah, the scenery was just as we hoped, with snow piled high and rounded like soft meringue, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. I wore my sunglasses most of the ride -- the dazzling white against the blue sky and dark evergreens, so striking ... we took photo after photo, each mile of track bringing new vistas.
An unseen hand rolled snowballs downhill toward the tracks (just kidding). We spotted bunches of these mini-slides, probably triggered by the trains lumbering up or whizzing down.
Near Lake Van Norden at Soda Springs -- Jimmy and I actually were here last summer, waiting at this crossing for a stopped freight train to fire up so we could get on across. Believe it or not, we walked thru the lake bed grasses because the lake was dry. Lake Van Norden is the origin of the South Yuba River, a favorite place for hikes in Nevada County. I hope the drought is over.
A glimpse of Donner Lake through the trees.
The train made a brief stop in Truckee only to take on passengers or let some off, and then the Zephyr began its descent into Nevada and Reno. We didn't get out.
We picked up the Truckee River in Truckee and would follow it all the way to Reno. Here again, the last time we saw this river, it had mostly dried up (the source is Lake Tahoe). It's wonderful to see the river flowing. The fly fishermen in the photo above would surely agree with me!
On the "dry side" In Nevada, the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas. More snow falls on the western slope; the snow is sparser here, but the Truckee is truckin' along! The rugged beauty is breathtaking.
Right on schedule, the train pulled into Reno. We hailed a cab for the Peppermill Resort and Casino, a huge property not too far from the depot. Our inexpensive rooms were luxurious -- cool beans! Nice pool, but we didn't think to bring our bathing suits. Dinner at Cafe Milano was very agreeable -- the menu was such that the four of us ordered four different types of food and all were good. We hit the casino afterwards, but Jimmy and I don't last long at slot machines. I won $50, cashed in my ticket and we retired to our room. Diane is nursing a cold, so she retired to their room. Tom tried his luck at the tables ....
Tomorrow morning, we'll catch a cab back to the train depot for our return to Colfax.