GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- Two people drive through the Rocky Mountains. One looks out the window and breathes “Oh, wow” approximately every five seconds. The other is glued to the steering wheel with a view of … the road. Take your eyes off the road in the mountains, and you’re off the road.
The solution? The train. Everybody gets to look out the window, and nobody has to worry about driving. My husband and I took Amtrak from Denver to Grand Junction for just that reason.
It’s about an eight-hour trip, give or take (because trains share tracks, so things don’t always run on time). You can drive the distance in 4 1/2 hours.
The fare on Amtrak’s California Zephyr is between $61 and $95 each way, depending on the days of the week you travel — Fridays cost $95, for example — so the round trip will cost between $122 and $190 each. And you’ll need to rent a car in Grand Junction, although doing so is less expensive and exasperating than at Denver International Airport.
Bottom line: Don’t take the train because it’s cheap and fast, because it’s not. Do it because it’s a relaxing way to get across Colorado, with plenty of leg room, great views and no bag fees.
The only complicated part of taking Amtrak is the lack of a seat assignment. You’re assigned a car and have to hunt down empty seats. We were aboard with a huge British tour group, so finding seats together was a challenge, but a train employee located good ones for us.
We settled into our roomy seats and gawked through the train’s big windows at the evolving scenery as we chugged northwest up into the foothills and then the Rockies, stopping briefly in Fraser and Granby, then southwest through whitewater rafting and slow-water rafting territories, where we saw tons of rafters and received more than one Colorado salute (commonly known as mooning).
We moved through the Upper Gore Mountain Range on west through canyons near Glenwood Springs (the third stop) and, finally, vineyards heralding our arrival in Grand Junction.
Our train had an observation car/lounge car. We found it constantly filled by members of the tour group, but that was OK. The view was just dandy from our own seats. I’ve heard good things about the dining car food, but the competition to get into it was fairly stiff, so we grabbed a couple of hot dogs from the snack bar and reminded ourselves to bring our own food on the return trip.
Conductors and other train workers were uniformly jolly and helpful. They made frequent announcements about key sights, upcoming tunnels and such.
Our train was half an hour late arriving in Grand Junction, but 15 minutes early on the return trip to Denver.
One last important note: While Denver’s Union Station is under renovation until sometime in 2014, Amtrak is based on 21st Street just west of Coors Field in what used to be a light bulb store. The Grand Junction-Denver train gets in around 6:30 p.m., and a handful of cabs will be there, awaiting your arrival.
• Information: www.amtrak.com.