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Trails, Roads, & Rails

“The landscape of the American West has to to be seen to be believed, and has to be believed to be seen.” -N. Scott Momaday

I have many summer memories of road trips across the West.

Often our family trips were to the north through Oregon, Washington, and dipping into southern British Colombia. On another road trip we visited Monument Valley, the incredible Grand Canyon, and the underwhelming Four Corners in our Volkswagon Vanagon. On the same trip we rode on one of the United States’ most famous railroads, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

To celebrate summer and the purchase of a new car (a 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport), I decided to take a road trip in the West. My intended destinations reflect my many interests.

My new Adventure-Mobile.

For birds I intend to visit the Ruby Mountains in Nevada for the legendary lifer Himalayan snowcock and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado for white-tailed ptarmigan and broad-tailed hummingbird. For history I want to visit Fort Bridger in Wyoming, parts of the Hasting’s Cut-off in Utah, and the California Gull Monument in Salt Lake City. For rail history I planned to visit the Ames Monument in Buford Wyoming, Union Station at Ogden, Utah, and the ground zero of Union Pacific’s steam program, Cheyenne.

For roughly 1,000 miles I would be traveling east on Highway 80. Like the Transcontinental Railroad before it, I-80 is an east-west transcontinental highway. At 2,899 miles it is the second longest highway in the United States, after I-90. The highway was created in 1956 as part of the original interstate highway system.

As I do before any important journey I sketch out the route. In this case I chose to represent the map as a distressed treasure map or perhaps a map to a secret goldmine, like Dr. Buckbee’s map in the Gold Rush classic By the Great Horn Spoon.

I have been a big fan of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks and I love the heavy weight of the cold press, ivory paper of the Delta Series. What I don’t like is that I have not found this high quality paper in a hardbound panoramic sketchbook, until now!

While I was picking up pens at California Arts Supply I was ranting (once again) to the owner Ron about how I wished Stillman & Birn would make a Delta Series hardbound panoramic sketchbook. He told that they did have such a sketchbook, newly arrived! I bought one as my road trip journal!

Finally an improvement on the Moleskine panoramic sketch book that has been my go to journal for years but with better paper. The paper is 270 g, ivory cold press. When opened the panoramic format gives me a 6 X 18 inch painting surface! Perfect for the land of vast vistas! Or painting a very tall tree or tower in the vertical format.

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Post 400: A Zephyr Deferred

Zephyr: (n) a gentle wind from the west.

Last spring break I booked a roomette on the California Zephyr, a 2,438 mile journey from Emeryville, Ca to Chicago, Il. This route passes through such cities as Sacramento, Truckee, Reno, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, and Chicago. It is one of the most scenic routes on the AMTRAK network.

Last spring I was going to travel the entire route but then Covid 19 happened and I had to cancel the trip. I knew that this rail dream was deferred and at first chance I would rebook this trip because I have always wanted to travel by rail through the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains.

The opportunity came in spring break of 2021. Instead of traveling the whole route, I booked a round trip with a roomette from Colfax, Ca (near my mom’s house) to Denver, Co. This stretch includes the most scenic parts of the route and Denver provides it’s own destinations.

On this trip, I plan to do many quick sketches of train views along the route. At California Arts Supply in San Mateo, I got a custom Ronquad which is a 4 by 6 piece of card stock that would be a template for framing each sketch. I used my Ronquad on the featured sketch.

But why Denver and not Chicago? Both cities provide great sketching opportunities but Denver has an edge over Chicago: life birds! I had a few ABA lifers on my list: scaled quail, dusky grouse, American three-toed woodpecker, brown-capped and black rosy-finch, sharp-tail grouse, and the much sought after white-tailed ptarmigan. And while Chicago offers lots of architecture sketching opportunities, Denver has that too but also beautiful landscapes.

The Zephyr stops at the historic Union Station in downtown Denver and I booked a “Pullman” room in the hotel at the station, the Crawford Hotel. I admit this is a bit a splurge but I love the idea of stepping off the train in the evening, after a two day trip, and walking a short distance to my room in Union Station. It seems a throwback to a different era. An era when more people travelled by rail, when the airline industry was in it’s infancy.

As I do before any trip, I do a few sketches to build knowledge and excitement. The featured sketch is from the AMTRAK website for the California Zephyr. This location looks to be somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. I also like to do a map of my future journey. In this case, Train 6, from Colfax to Denver with all the stops in between.

California Zephyr map showing all the stops from Colfax, Ca to Denver, Co.