Monday, November 1, 2010

Through Colorado, the Switzerland of America

My first night sleeping in the upper berth* did not disappoint. While the mattress was on the firm side, it was comfortable, and I rose feeling quite rested and awestruck by the expanse of sun charred orange desert gleaming on all sides of us. Not daring to use our six inch square shower yet, we went straight to breakfast. My father, the champ, uncomplainingly ate his worrisome pile of minced eggs, house potatoes, and sausage, while I listened to various other diners loudly state things like, "No. You do not understand. This is the single worst sausage patty I have ever seen, let alone eaten. Ever." I very much enjoyed my oatmeal.

We had moved into the dramatically named Mountain Time Zone, which reminded me of the little known story of how the U.S. first was came to have time zones. Until the railroad became an important industry in the U.S., every isolated yeoman hamlet ran on it's own time, determined by the sun. It was not until trains began connecting distant and previously disconnected areas that the need arose for any sort of reliable timekeeping. It was the railroad industry itself that finally called the General Time Convention of 1883, breaking the continent up into four standardized time zones regulated nationally instead of thousands guessed at by local magicians.

It is these sort of tangential relationships that one can explore fully when one embraces the slower rhythm of life on a train. But I digress.

Our first stop of interest, where we were able to get off the train and explore the surrounding area, was Grand Junction, Colorado. I saw very little of active grandeur, nor of things being conjoined in any productive manner. In a true showing of American disregard for conservation of any kind, there was a succession of three stations from different eras along the tracks. Of course, the newest and worst eyesore was the one currently in use, and co-housed what a hand-painted tarp told me was Grand Junction's "GOP HQ" However I did find, via a dismal tourism display in the station, that the city is the self-proclaimed capital of Colorado's wine country. They also have many options for ATV rental and llama-themed bed and breakfast vacations.

At two other stops we were able to scamper outside and sniff about looking for trouble. In Glenwood Springs, where Teddy Roosevelt used to vacation at the Hotel Colorado, we found a yellow castle guarded by two enormous water slides, as well as a gift shop disguised as a railroad museum run by a joyless man masquerading as a railroad conductor. In Fraser, I got into a vicIous snowball fight with a 300 pound Amtrak porter and an eight year old boy called Steven.**

We arrived early in Denver, at 6pm, and had over an hour to explore the downtown area, during which time my father and I saw a family of zombies eating dinner on a restaurant patio, and founded a local food bank program to help provide disenfranchised youth obtain Chipotle burritos.***

Back on the train, Dad and I ate delicious New York steak and some sort of reconstituted salmon jerky product, respectively, in the very pleasant company of a couple from New Zealand on a two week, pan-continental holiday. Our nightly train film was the implausible and overall ridiculous 1990 remake of The Narrow Margin.

The next day would find us on the Great Plains, steaming**** towards Chicago.


*Train lingo for top bunk
**I think it is obvious who won.
***What actually happened was two desperate homeless folks asked us for money for a burrito, and I, desperate for something to accomplish in Denver, said "How about we buy you a burrito instead?" expecting some muttered reply retracting their request. But, lo and behold, their faces brightened, and they dragged me into the burrito chain with them ranting about a Halloween deal where burritos were, they thought, free if one covered one's body with a certain quantity of foil. However, after ordering they were confronted with a total price of 4 dollars for their two burritos. Penniless, they had resorted to begging outside. Their enormous burritos were waiting patiently for them as I paid the clerk. It was a Halloween miracle.
****I use the term figuratively.

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