Alaska 2012:
Day 12 - Empire Builder


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Alaska 2012: [Day 1 - Chicago] [Day 2 - Seattle] [Day 3 - Victoria] [Day 4 - Vancouver ] [Day 5 - Inside Passage] [Day 6 - Juneau] [Day 7 - Skagway] [Day 8 - Glacier Bay] [Day 9 - Ketchikan] [Day 10 - Inside Passage] [Day 11 - Seattle] [Day 12 - Empire Builder] [Day 13 - Empire Builder]

Sunday, August 12, 2012: Our little mascot friend, Orchy, had never been to Idaho, so Tom and Debbie set their alarms to wake up at 2:30 AM in time for the only Idaho stop of the trip. We arrived 20 minutes late, so it was hard to stay awake, but when we arrived, Debbie took Orchy down for his Idaho photograph. The train attendant said that Debbie couldn't get off the train, so she took this photo with Idaho in the background. When he saw what she was doing, he gave permission to take a photo by the station.
Tom was waiting by the train to make sure it didn't leave without Debbie and Orchy. And that is the story of how Orchy visited Idaho at 3:00 in the morning.
We lost an hour when we switched time zones at the Montana border, so it was a little rough for us to awaken at 7:00 AM Mountain Time, less than three hours after we had gone back to sleep.
But we had to do it, because we were arriving in Whitefish, Montana, a mere 10 minutes behind schedule, ...
... and the beautiful scenery of Glacier National Park wasn't far behind.
Tom and Debbie were called to the dining car around 8:15 for breakfast. As is the Amtrak custom, we were seated with two other people, two women traveling separately who were both very familiar with eastern Montana, so we had a nice conversation with them. Tom had an omelette and Debbie had the daily special, crab cakes with hollandaise sauce on a biscuit, both washed down with orange juice and Diet Pepsi. As sleeper car passengers, the price of our meals was included in our fare, so we just tipped the staff on the value of our food.
Our stop at West Glacier was brief, and we didn't get a photo in time. We had last been here exactly eight years earlier.
We followed the Flathead River along the south end of Glacier National Park.
It ranged from narrow and rocky to wide and quiet.
Mountains all around us doesn't mean that a little farmland can't sneak in here and there.
This is the Izaac Walton Inn, marking roughly the halfway point of our trip through the park.
Up ahead, we saw snow sheds covering the tracks in areas prone to avalanches.
We went through several of them through Glacier.
Here's another one, looking back.
The land here was getting less steep, ...
... but only because we were so far up in the mountains, ...
... and arriving at Marias Pass.
From a distance, we could see the Marias Pass obelisk and just make out the statue of John F. Stevens located to the left of it.
The route from the pass followed a beautiful mountain range, ...
... producing many computer-backdrop-ready photographs like this one.
We arrived at the East Glacier train station and got a tempting glimpse of Glacier Park Lodge and its stunning front lawn and garden, where we had stayed eight years earlier.
We got a look at this Burlington Northern Santa Fe passenger train and it looked pretty fancy. No amount of Internet searching has turned up any details on this train, its route, or fares, so I guess it will remain a mystery.
Well, how's this for a typical Montana scene? This horse corral was just down the road from the Glacier Park Lodge.
We enjoyed our last views of the mountains, ...
... because suddenly the terrain changed to rolling plains.
This is the land of ranches and cattle ...
... and Native American tribes. These appeared to be some sort of ceremonial structures.
The scenery doesn't change much for many hours of traveling, ...
... except for the stops in the small towns where we blocked the way of the local residents.
The town of Cut Bank, Montana boasts of its oil and gas production, ...
... and we saw evidence of it on the plains.
But these plains are good for another source of energy, and we were happy to see some windmill farms as well.
It was interesting going through the small Montana towns, trying to imagine what life was like at places like the Montana Club.
We got out and stretched our legs for a few minutes in Shelby, Montana.
Amtrak doesn't own the tracks we were using, and all around us were reminders of who the real boss around here is.
We spotted a family of deer on the plain.
Jill finally woke up and joined us in our sightseeing.
We went to lunch late enough that we were able to have a table just to the three of us. We snapped a photo of the dumbwaiter used to send food to the upper level of the car from the kitchen below.
During lunch, we watched the scenery, which was mostly plains, ...
... but with the occasional pond ...
... and interesting hills.
We had another scheduled break in Havre, where there was all sorts of train activity. Our Trails and Rails guy disembarked here, while the kitchen and sleeping car crew stocked up on fresh ice.
We stayed aboard because we were eating lunch, but we snapped a photo of these cool stained glass pieces on the Welcome to Havre sign.
Just past Havre, we spotted an automobile museum of sorts in a field. Mmmm, Hamm's beer.
This junkyard offered a glimpse of decades past.
Montana is flat for a very long time, but it's beautiful in its own way.
Just south of the small town of Chinook was the Bear Paw Battlefield and ...
... the Bear Paw Mountains, just visible in the distance in this shot.
It was a rare treat when we had phone service so we took advantage of it when it happened. One of us would call out, "I have bars!" and the rest of us would scramble for our phones.
More Montana scenery.
And more. How rustic is this?
And this? Not shown: cattle skulls occasionally seen hanging from fences of cattle ranches. Charming Old West decorations or horrifying warnings to the cattle not to try to escape? You decide.
We signed up for the complimentary wine and cheese tasting event in the afternoon.
We were seated by a woman traveling back from a business trip, and were presented with ...
... a plate of crackers and three types of cheese.
This photo exists because it was the only way to get a photo of Isabella, the dining car manager. She made mealtime announcements approximately every five minutes, three hours per meal, three meals per day.
The wine tasting was hosted by Annie, the sleeping car attendant for car 0831, and Robin, the sleeping car attendant for our car, 0830. They told us about the four wines we were served: two white wines and two red wines, then quizzed us with trivia questions to win bottles of those wines.
Yeah, baby, we ended up with two!
Shortly before Malta, Montana, we passed the westbound Empire Builder.
In Malta, we passed Stretch's Pizza. We didn't get a photo of it (this is from their Facebook page), but the name stuck in our mind and we decided to use it as our code phrase to mean "I'm taking a picture of you only because of what is behind you."
More pretty scenery.
In Wolf Point, we encountered the Silver Wolf Casino, one of many we saw in Montana. We were due here at 4:33 PM but arrived at 5:46 PM, which didn't bode well for an on-time arrival the next day.
So, there's a class system on Amtrak -- the sleeping car people and everyone else. So when the cafe car attendant announced the opportunity to buy chicken dinners to be delivered after we stopped in Havre, we thought it might be nice to have some snack food in our room. However, she never came to the sleeping car to take orders, so Debbie had to head to the cafe car, walking through the dining car and every single passenger car, to place the order. The cafe attendant was surprised that someone from the sleeping cars wanted to order them, and explained that it wouldn't be free. Um, yeah, we know, we heard your announcement. We went back later to pick them up and they were very tasty. But clearly, we weren't supposed to mix with the common folk and partake of their peasant food.
As we approached North Dakota, the landscape started to look much like the Badlands of South Dakota.
Especially this fine specimen here.
Just past the North Dakota border is Fort Union, a large white structure with a couple of teepees nearby. We lost an hour again crossing from Mountain into Central Time.
We had a stop in Williston, North Dakota, and that's where we took Tom's formal portrait in his 50th state.
There is an oil boom going on in North Dakota, and this artsy photo captures that.
This photo is especially haunting because it was taken near Tioga, where a massive train derailment happened less than 12 hours later. A gravel truck drove in front of a freight train, killing the driver instantly and derailing nearly 30 train cars. The track was shut down for over 24 hours, so we were very fortunate to make it through this area before it was shut down.
We passed many "man camps," as our breakfast companions had described them: settlements of trailers, mobile homes, and even campers used to house the huge influx of workers who have come to North Dakota to make their living off the oil boom.
We went to the dining car near the end of service, so once again, we didn't have to share our table with anyone else. Our favorite server was Veronica, who was always in a good mood no matter how busy she was.
Tom had downloaded an app that measured our speed, shown here as 76 MPH. Jill had discovered that they'd let her order from the kid menu, so she had pizza most of the time. Debbie had tilapia and Tom had vegetarian lasagna.
Dessert was included with our meals, so we tried the coconut cake, after having the cream puff and the cheesecake the night before. Delicious!
We had figured out how to set up the beds ourselves, so we converted our rooms into the nighttime configuration. Here's Jill ready to read Harry Potter until she falls asleep, ...

... and here's Tom and Debbie's portion of the suite. Good night, North Dakota!

Day 13 >


Alaska 2012: [Day 1 - Chicago] [Day 2 - Seattle] [Day 3 - Victoria] [Day 4 - Vancouver ] [Day 5 - Inside Passage] [Day 6 - Juneau] [Day 7 - Skagway] [Day 8 - Glacier Bay] [Day 9 - Ketchikan] [Day 10 - Inside Passage] [Day 11 - Seattle] [Day 12 - Empire Builder] [Day 13 - Empire Builder]

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