See the nation’s most spectacular scenery on the way to this year’s NACIS conference. Join the rolling Geodweeb party train as it heads from Chicago to Sacramento. Here’s the plan:
Catch a cheap flight into Chicago’s Midway Airport on Southwest Airlines Sunday morning, October 4. A half-hour rapid transit ride brings you to Chicago Union Station. Amtrak’s Zephyr leaves at 2 pm, headed west. The first evening is a quiet look at backyard America, through the Chicago suburbs and Illinois cornfields, crossing the Mississippi at Burlington, then west through small Iowa towns into the sunset. After dinner and a couple of beers in the lounge car, we slip across the Missouri River and into Omaha.
Nebraska passes quietly and smoothly during the night, as we run alongside the Platte River, the route taken by the wagon trains headed west. Dawn finds us nearing Denver, where we stop for 45 minutes to service the train—long enough for one of us to run for high-priced coffee across the street from Union Station. You can also join the trip here by flying into Denver on Sunday night and boarding the train first thing Monday morning.
The morning is spent in the spectacular climb past Boulder and up the Front Range of the Rockies, entering the Moffat Tunnel in late morning and emerging a few minutes later at Winter Park, which may well have snow by mid-October. The tracks follow a tiny stream as it grows to become the Colorado River, and by early afternoon we’re in the spectacular Glenwood Canyon, where the tracks move from side to side of the steep-sided canyon. West of Grand Junction, the Colorado broadens and heads to the south, while we see the Book Cliffs in spectacular late-afternoon light before whistling into the dusk in central Utah. By 11 pm we’re in Salt Lake City—another Southwest Airlines city where you could also join us.
Darkness keeps us from seeing the emptiness of the Bonneville Salt Flats and the first group of mountain ranges in northern Nevada. We get to Reno at 9:30 am, and an hour later are high in the mountains, skirting Lake Tahoe. The main attraction on Tuesday, of course, is the Sierra Nevada, as we cross nervously through snow-covered Donner Pass at midday and then slip down the western face and into Sacramento a little after 3 pm, arriving only a block from the conference hotel.
Those of us who traveled coach might need a little nap before dinner, but we’ll be fully rested for Practical Cartography Day Wednesday. Sacramento is a Southwest Airlines city, making it quite practical to book a one-way ticket back home on Saturday or Sunday, or perhaps you’ll want to head back east by rail.
- What will this cost? Amtrak coach fare is only $145. Check your airfare into Chicago and back from Sacramento at www.southwest.com
- How will I sleep? If you’re in coach, about as well as on a transatlantic flight. But hey—there’s no penalty for having a little nap the next afternoon.
- What about food? You’ll have the choice of the dining car or the sandwiches, pizza, and burgers sold in the lounge car. We’ll also bring a really well-stocked picnic basket.
- What will I do? Enjoy the leisurely ride. Besides the spectacular scenery, the point is to enjoy the company of your once-a-year NACIS friends. You’ll find AC outlets at every seat, and movies in the lounge car at night. Docents offer commentary for the trip between Reno and Sacramento. Of course, Dennis will have detailed maps so we can follow our progress.
- Will the train be late? Maybe. This route has a 65% on-time performance over the last year. The part between Chicago and Denver generally runs pretty much on schedule. West of Denver, Union Pacific is doing some track work, and we might well be a couple hours late getting into Sacramento Tuesday afternoon. In October, we’re very unlikely to get stranded in Donner Pass and have to resort to unpleasant meal choices.
- Where do I sign up? Just speak up and tell me you’ll be part of the group, then make your own airline and Amtrak arrangements. We’ll arrange to be seated more-or-less together—not far from the lounge car.