Saturday, 30 March 2013

Day 14 - Williams to Las Vegas

I know what you're thinking about me being in Las Vegas, and you'd be totally wrong. I'm in my hotel room writing up my blog, sorting out maps and references for tomorrows leg and doing a load of washing....although I did make time to have a nice salad and some fries for dinner served by young girls in tight orange shorts and white singlets - something to do with owls - I'll figure it out one day... ;-)

Anyway - today I decided that we (as in my vehicle) would stick stringently to the itinerary I'd written up prior to the commencement of the tour. Thankfully the Johnson luck of finding trains kicked in and I filmed 10 trains in total - all before 2 pm. Within 10 minutes of turning up to the new location, something would turn up.

We departed Williams and headed back east to check out a few spots I'd identified on Google Maps and they turned out to be really good. We then returned to Williams to witness the departure of the Grand Canyon Railway train, led by a couple of F40 locos - ex Via I think.

We then headed to Seligman, but this time I stuck to the itinerary and got onto Route 66 on Crookton Road to check out the overpass. Excellent. Further along the road the trains just kept coming and coming. At Seligman I took a break from driving and Greg got us to Crozier Canyon where things seemed to slow down a bit, but we still got a couple.

We then continued onto Kingman where we then swung north and headed towards Las Vegas, stopping off at the Hoover Dam. This place isn't on my bucket list as it's man made, but it's still pretty darned impressive. The heat was pretty intense but we all managed to make the long walk up a gazillion steps to view the dam from the new road bridge.

A quick stop at the Lake Mead info centre for some scenicky photos and it was off to Las Vegas. Sally (we call her that) the GPS Hertz Neverlost told me one thing, and I saw another - and I missed the off ramp to our Motel so had to double back via - oh gawd - Las Vegas Boulevard. That was a driving experience and a half.

Despite my best efforts, Sally got us to the Motel unscathed - just in time to see a guy being arrested and carted off - right on the doorsteps of the main foyer. Great !

Dinner at Hooters, bought some stuff from their store, and I'm back in the Hotel. Personally, I dislike Las Vegas. I get the impression that the general attitude is "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" and being there is an open cheque book for personal behaviour that would not be normally carried out at home. Maybe I just need to spend more time here and take in more of the good side of Vegas.

Other than that, bright lights, big city, lots of people - including a raft of young adults from California on a weekend holiday. I'll be glad to get to the peace and quiet of the Mojave desert again - Ludlow tomorrow and we're there for three days - they're so remote I don't think they have internet - we'll see.


Lots of these little fellas hanging around - he sat still just long enough for me to shoot off this shot. It's a railroad milepost marker.

Some of you will realize the significance of this sign, and how old it is.

The Grand Canyon Railway departing Williams AZ

Mr Hoover's little concreting project. The difference in colour above the waterline shows where the waterline should be - it's 128 feet low.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Day 13 - Flagstaff to Williams

Two items were struck off my bucket list today - a visit to both Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon. Photos cannot do these places any justice - you have to see them.

The day started off departing Flagstaff and heading east to Meteor Crater. On the way there and back we stopped off at Cosnino Road and at Winona - which the old Santa Fe called Darling. My insistence of calling this place Winona is falling on deaf ears.

The light was good, there was no wind and trains were aplenty - until just before we got back to Flagstaff, where we stumbled across the aftermath of a grade crossing incident - train versus pedestrian. Flagstaff is split by the railroad and having a 2 km long freight blocking every grade crossing in town while the police and fire service sort out the mess can cause traffic mayhem.

We had lunch and due to the muck around, decided to alter the itinerary a bit and drove direct to Williams, from where I took two others up to the Grand Canyon to see it at sunset - stunning is an understatement.

At 6000 feet deep, the Grand Canyon is one big hole in the ground.

BNSF through Winona, AZ

Meteor Crater

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Day 12 - Kingman to Flagstaff

As promised, we returned to Kingman Canyon to make use of the morning light. Only two trains passed through for the hour we were there - something was up. As we departed Kingman we soon discovered the problem - two trains were being held back to allow the UPS hotshot to overtake, thus preventing both tracks from being used until this special train had passed through. On top of that, a loco was having its traction motor being changed out in a siding.

We immediately hit Route 66 where our first stop was the Hackberry General Store where I spent too much money on crap I didn't need.. I did my thing for NZ-US relations - wrote my name on a NZ 5 dollar note, pinned it to the world map and put another pin in the map on top of Feilding.

The second stop was at Crozier Canyon where two trains were filmed. A quick stop at Peach Springs netted two more. Seligman was our lunch stop and this is where we lost the other vehicle - not a problem. We'd finally meet up at the hotel.
We continued on along I40 where Greg took over the driving while I slept - missing out on Williams altogether. Our next stop was on Sherwood Forest Road just short of Flagstaff. We were there for no longer than 10 minutes and saw two trains - one of them having three new ES44C4's on the point, two of them were consecutively numbered.

We shot past Flagstaff and stopped off at Cosnino Road and further along at Winona (Darling). We ended up pacing an intermodal all the way to Winslow, at one stage we were doing 75 mph and not gaining on it. Crazy.

More shots from Winslow - I did manage to stand on a corner in Winslow Arizona, but not the touristy corner.

Back to Flagstaff where re rocked up the same time as the other team.

The Winslow Gap.

Kingman Canyon

Kingman Canyon

Hackberry, AZ

Peach Springs, AZ

Winslow AZ

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Day 11 - Needles to Kingman

We're flying through the tour now, rapidly heading east. Today was only a short drive but there was plenty to do - lots of waiting around, a bit more waiting around, and then some more waiting around.

We headed out of Needles and drove down I40 and got off at Park Moabi. The BNSF cuts through a lot of old mine tailings here and the view from the road is pretty darn good. Alas the scanner revealed that a loco was having compressor problems at Needles and was fouling the main line - no trains for ages. We got a couple though, and also saw a meet on the Topock Bridge across the Colorado River.

A reasonable drive north saw us having lunch at Kingman followed by the entire afternoon at Kingman Canyon. The light was OK, but this place is more suited to morning shots, which we'll get tomorrow.
By the time we got there the backlog of trains was starting to clear with one turning up about every 15 - 20 minutes. Beautiful scenery.

I've rapidly picked up the necessary skills to survive driving in the USA, and tonight I found out that I don't make a very good passenger - finger nail marks in the dash board when one of the others took us to the supermarket.

Not many piccies, but I managed to film 14 trains today.

Northern Class loco on display in Kingman. The drivers are just over 6 feet tall and this beast totally dwarfs anyone who stands beside it.

BNSF intermodal at Park Moabi near Topock

BNSF at Kingman Canyon

BNSF at Kingman Canyon

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Day 10 - Mojave to Needles

This leg of our journey took us from Mojave to Needles - a long drive that took all day in really warm desert heat.
We followed Hwy 58 from Mojave to Barstow, Route 66 to Daggett and joined I40 at Newberry Springs, stopping off at Barstow and Daggett.
The next leg took us to Ludlow where we stopped for lunch. It was pretty warm, with the temp getting up to 27 degrees C. The desert heat is dry and combine that with the cars aircon, it's a sure fire way to get dehydrated real quick.
We stuck with I40 as far as Fenner (Goffs Road interchange) - another hot long leg - and drove along Goffs road until we got to the town of Goffs - one house, barely standing, but habited. The action here was full on, and thanks to Dave Simpson's driving skills, I managed to get the most amazing pacing shot - over 10 kms in total, with the train starting off from stationary and slowly building up to 57 mph - with 160 well cars with containers on - the longest we've seen so far.
We then moved further along Goffs Road to Ibiz, where by now we could see west bound freights coming up the valley from Needles and east bounds approaching the crest of the hill from East Goffs. Dragging the guys away was a real mission, because as soon as one train would pass, you could see another crawling its way up the hill. It had us all wondering where all this stuff was going.

The scenery along I40 is nothing short of stunning. For those that like looking at barren landscapes and random mountain ranges poking up out of the desert, you never get tired of looking at the view. One highlight for me, although I did well to hide and contain my enthusiasm, was seeing the Pisgah crater and the surrounding lava beds. Because I was driving, I couldn't take photos, so the Amboy Crater will have to suffice when we get near that in a few days time.

The locals reckon the snakes and scorpions will start appearing in about 4 weeks - we're not letting down our guard just in case.

One night in Needles, tomorrow we're off to Kingman AZ, which in USA driving terms is "just down the road".

The view from Ibiz.

Pacing a BNSF ES44C4

The 'B' Team at Goffs

"Down" train at Ibiz

"Up" train meets "Down" train at Ibiz

Tail end helpers at Ibiz

Monday, 25 March 2013

Day 9 - A 16 mile drive

Today was to be a back-up day in case nothing happened at Tehachapi yesterday. As it turned out, today is Monday and Monday is window day - where the Union Pacific & BNSF cease operations so they can carry out track maintenance.

Between 7:30 am and 4:30 pm we saw 3 trains and didn't drive any further than Monolith, 16 miles away - and that's all I'll say about that.

Thankfully I bumped into a UP signal maintainer early on and he was quite happy to power up his laptop and show me a graphical interface of the rail network and where all the trains were - it was looking pretty sad. Armed with that information we decided to head back to the motel and just chill.

By 5:30 pm it was all on again but the light was fading fast. Last night at Mojave. Wonderful place.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Day 8 - Tehachapi exploration

Being based out of Mojave, it's only a 20 minute drive to Tehachapi and the accommodation is a lot cheaper. Apart from that, you can hear the trains rumbling past in the middle of the night and the sunrises are spectacular.

Today was full on and very busy - I took over 250 photos and filmed 15 trains from Caliente, Bealville, Tunnel 2 and Tehachapi Loop. There were a lot more than 15 trains though, and it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

The weather was fine and warm and I got my third layer of sunburn.

Not much more to say other than we are burning through a lot of fuel with all this hill climbing. Can't wait to get back onto flat land.

Piccies below:

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Day 7 - Fresno to Mojave

Day 7 involved us relocating from Fresno to Mojave via Bakersfield and Tehachapi Loop. What a drive. After checking out from our less than morally ideal hotel in Fresno, we shot down to the Fresno Amtrak to catch some action.

This time the two vehicles stuck together like glue and the invariably excellent good luck I have when finding trains was running rampant again, this time rubbing off on the others.

We explored Fresno a bit more, following the lines and generally heading in a southerly direction. The sudden appearance of a security company vehicle had us thinking that someone in a loco cab didn't take too kindly to us using our cameras on a public road. We were being watched, but that's as far as it got.

The long drive to Bakersfield was broken up with stop at Tulare for lunch. Bakersfield was a non event, but the 20 minute break from driving gave us the necessary rest needed for the final leg to Mojave, via Tehachapi Loop. All the hype about this place is warranted. We accessed this area via Caliente and Bealville, the first stop being at tunnel 1.

For the first time in my life, I had to scan the ground ahead looking out for rattlesnakes before walking it. No snakes seen. Despite not seeing any rail activity at all from Bakersfield to the loop, by the time we got there it was all on. Despite what many have said, there were just as many Union Pacific as there was BNSF. Excellent.

The day ended with a bit of shopping in Tehachapi K Mart and the final drive to Mojave. Days Inn is a very good Motel.

A most excellent day had by all. Clear skies, a slight breeze and more sunburn. We're now on the edge of the Mojave Desert and temperatures are a lot warmer. The hotel is located across the road from the main line and the noise of the trains passing through has got everyone fizzing - loving it !

Friday, 22 March 2013

Day 6 - Auburn to Fresno

All I can say about today was "Wow !!"

Going to Lodi was a waste of time - nothing happened. Stockton diamonds produced a lot of rail action from both UP and BNSF although the light suited UP traffic only.

After spending a couple of hours there we headed off for Fresno, my team taking Santa Fe Highway all the way from Escalon to Merced. Some intense BNSF action was to be found and the guys were pretty pleased with what they saw - and then Greg pipes up "Isn't that a B-52 ?"
I start to immediately scan the skies, and there it was - on the ground right in front of us. We had stumbled across the USAF Castle AFB Museum - wicked - which was just closing up for the day - oh no.

The guys did some sweet talking and one of the ladies stayed behind and let us roam around for an hour - excellent. By the time we got to Fresno it was dark and time for food and bed.

Brilliant day.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Day 5 - Donner Pass

Day 5 was spent covering as much ground as possible from Auburn to Verdi. Auburn is north east of Sacramento and Verdi is 10 miles west of Reno Nevada. This entire area is referred to as Donner Pass.

Both teams had different tactics with both vehicles clocking up some serious miles and both parties were moderately successful when it came to hunting the iron horses. The entire line is double tracked but it was soon evident that only one was being used - the reason became clear when a high railer turned up on the track that wasn't being used.

Donner Pass is a big area and train chasing can involve a lot of driving - albeit at 65 mph along I80. My tactic was to drive all the way to Verdi, stopping when we saw something. At about the half way mark at Soda Springs the lights started flashing and bells clanging as soon as we got there - rather amusing as the vehicle automatically locks the doors as soon as you take off, so when I stopped at the barrier arms and everyone tried to get out in a hurry, they were all locked in...some colourful language was heard.

The climb to the summit of Donner Pass is ridiculous - at over 7240 feet, it's well above the snow line and there was plenty to be found. Soda Springs was blanketed and made a great backdrop for multiple shots. It was an odd thing driving along Donner Pass Road and going past all these chair lifts that started near the road.

I was so busy filming I forgot to take photos, other than scenic shots.

Places visited were Colfax, Alta (awesome lunch from the Deli), Soda Springs and Truckee. Eight video clips and the photos below. Tomorrow we relocate to Fresno.

Lake Donner from the top of the pass. Amazing that just over to the right is the Union Pacific main line - at 7056 feet. Standing at Soda Springs, it's plainly obvious the steep grade the trains have to climb to get to the top of the pass.

This is rugged country.