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ALL ABOARD! A LUXURY TRAIN REVIVAL FROM THE ROCKIES TO THE RED ROCKS
 
(2023 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: DEBRA SMITH



As I balance on the swaying platform between two rail cars, an ever-changing vista of geological formations rushes by my open window. Walls of sandstone like massive billboards melt in a blur, and so do buff-coloured canyons, and pillars of rock, that jut out like marooned lighthouses.

The romance of the rails is alive and well on Rocky Mountaineer’s thrilling route between Denver, Colorado and Moab, Utah. I’m on a two-day quest on board a luxury train that crests the Continental Divide along a route aptly named “Rockies to the Red Rocks” for this Wild West adventure. My travelling companions range from honeymoon couples and photo buffs to cruise enthusiasts. But one connection we all share is a love of train travel, especially luxury train travel. It’s the land-based alternative to a cruise.

The night before our departure, at the Cooper Lounge overlooking the Great Hall of the historic Union Station in downtown Denver, we toasted the upcoming luxe rail adventure with top-shelf spirits. The restored station has regained its cachet as a cultural hub and now boasts excellent restaurants, and a railroad-inspired boutique hotel called The Crawford.

Tell Me Everything

The following morning, I had my first glance of the Rocky Mountaineer as a team of hosts welcomed all 65 passengers aboard. My SilverLeaf Plus car was awash in light that streamed through the wide domed sightseeing windows. I settled into my cushy caramel-coloured seat and within minutes we were leaving Denver behind.

As we rolled along at a leisurely 56 kph, our hosts provided an elegant breakfast service of regional fare served on white tablecloths with gleaming cutlery. Later, they took turns filling us in on the local flora and fauna, along with stories of famous characters like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Soon we were climbing through forests of cottonwood, aspen, Douglas fir and lodgepole pine. We plunged into darkness and winked into sunlight through 28 tunnels that led up to the Continental Divide before reaching the granddaddy of them all, the 10-km-long Moffat Tunnel. Built in 1928 by Denver visionary banker, David Moffat, the construction costs eventually ruined him. But in an ironic twist of fate, this landmark was also his crowning achievement, and has been designated as a National Historic Engineering Landmark.

We snaked alongside the Colorado River, slinking through a series of canyons called the Byers, Gore and Burns. As I stood in the gangway snapping pictures of rocky outcroppings, I felt a warm, dry chinook breeze rise off the sun-baked terrain. The Rocky Mountaineer was tracing a sunken seabed laid down over 70 million years ago and the surrounding hills are full of dinosaur tracks and ancient fossils. It was easy to imagine that I was on the ocean floor of the prehistoric North American Inland Sea that created this landscape.

Near sunset, we caught our first glimpse of the red rocks and watched rafters floating down the quieter stretches of the river.

Colorado’s Old Swimming Hole

Glenwood Springs, which was a playground for wealthy travellers during the Great Railroad Era of the 1880s, is now welcoming new generations of luxury rail aficionados. As we rolled into this Colorado wellness mecca at sundown, porters raced ahead to have our luggage waiting in our hotel rooms. Famous and infamous celebrities like Buffalo Bill and Al Capone came to gamble at the casino and gambol in North America’s largest natural hot springs. Today, trendy restaurants that line the historic pedestrian mall cater to rail passengers, while a nearby cemetery is open to history lovers paying their respects at Doc Holliday’s grave.

Bright and Early Eye-Opener

At dawn we departed Glenwood Springs just as the morning sky was turning shades of mango and mauve. We were truly in red rock territory now—on our way to the land of the Mighty Five: Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks. At this point two things dawned on me. That this was the quietest train ride I had ever experienced. And lastly, cocktail service at our dedicated Art Deco bar car began at 9 a.m. sharp—just in time for a morning mimosa.

When the train arrived outside of Moab, we lingered for a while, wishing our trip didn’t have to end. But the bewitching cliffs and canyons of the parks were waiting to enchant us, just as they had waited for the very first rail passengers on this magical route to the red rocks of the West, and we went off to greet them.

Must See

In the Mile High City of Denver, enjoy an alfresco concert sur-rounded by towering walls of red sandstone at Red Rocks Park. It’s the only naturally formed, acoustically perfect amphitheatre on the planet. This venue has hosted Sting, U2 and The Beatles. redrocksonline.com

Travel Planner

Rocky Mountaineer’s “Rockies to the Red Rocks” route runs between April and October. rockymountaineer.com

 
 
 
 
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