A journey with the Amtrak Texas Eagle and through the western United States

My wife, Beth and I love beautiful natural landscapes. When we had our outdoor television show, God’s Great Outdoors, we filmed fishing and scenery shows from Alaska to Central America.

So we booked a nine-day vacation trip with Amtrak through the western United States.

We took the train in San Marcos, but soon encountered our first hiccup. Due to recent rainfall, the track around Temple, Texas has been washed away. So they loaded us onto a bus and took us to Fort Worth. Once back on the train, we reached Chicago without further incident. The train moved quickly from St. Louis to Chicago. A GPS showed us we were moving about 100 miles per hour. We were driving down a major highway and not a single truck or car could keep up with us.

From Illinois we followed the wide Mississippi River along the Wisconsin border into Minnesota and on to Fargo, North Dakota. We were now in the northern part of the Great Plains of the Midwest. This was my favorite part of the trip because it looked like a duck factory from the US. Thousands of small holes provide nesting habitat for thousands of ducks and geese.

The prairie pothole region of North Dakota and eastern Montana has been in severe drought for two years. But recent rains had flooded many of the holes and most of the holes had waterfowl in pairs. For a duck hunter like me, this was waterfowl heaven.

Green-headed mallards, Canada geese and countless other ducks prepared to nest and raise their young. We saw two different pairs of Canada geese with their chicks. Early birds!

To most people, the Great Plains don’t compare to the mountain landscape of Colorado, but I love it for the ducks.

We crossed the whole long state of Montana. The eastern end consists of very barren, flat wheat fields with no trees or mountains. But this part of the state is full of wildlife. A friend and I were hunting in eastern Montana about twenty years ago and shot many grouse, pheasants and Hungarian partridges. We saw lots of mule deer and antelope, but it wasn’t the feathers that mattered to us, it was the fur.

During the night our train crossed the Idaho panhandle and on to Spokane, Washington. We missed some beautiful scenery around Coeur d’Alene, Idaho due to the overnight travel. We did see the east side of Glacier National Park.

Through Washington State we followed the mighty Columbia River on our way to Portland, Oregon. Numerous fishing boats along the river were fishing for salmon. Near the Pacific Ocean the river is huge and obviously deep since we saw ocean going vessels passing through the river.

Oregon is a beautiful place to live. We crossed some high mountain passes with lots of snow on the trees and on the ground.

Next big destination, Sacramento, California. But two hours outside Portland we encountered another problem. A freight train in front of us broke down. Freight trains own the tracks. Amtrak pays to use the rails. A major repair was needed which delayed us by 10 hours. We missed our connecting train to Sacramento, so an extra day was added to our adventure.

The Sacramento Valley is beautiful. As we followed the Sacramento River, I wanted to sit in the raft, floating with a fly rod in my hand. Or a shotgun. There were waterfowl everywhere. Huge orchards, both apple and almond trees, lined the rails in the valley.

The part of Utah we crossed was not very beautiful. Just desert and rocks. Very different from Zion National Park.

Entering Colorado at Grand Junction, we followed the Colorado River for many miles. Due to the melting snow cover, the river was muddy and not as beautiful as in later summer.

From Glenwood Springs to Central Colorado we were in the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains. Still following the Colorado, we were awed by beautiful gorges, steep rocky canyons, towering evergreens, snow-capped mountains, red rock cliffs, bald eagles perched in the tops of dead trees, colorful rafts floating and the whitewater rounds and dark mountain tunnels.

From Denver we cross the farmlands of Nebraska and Iowa on our way to Chicago. We then boarded the Texas Eagle and headed southwest toward San Marcos.

It had been an amazing journey. I like traveling by train. The whirring of the wheels on the rails, the gentle rocking of the cars, the lonely train whistles all contribute to a unique experience.