Wednesday 30th March
Overnight we crossed North Dakota and in the early hours arrived in Montana.
This morning at around 7:30 we arrived at St.Paul-Minneapolis which is a service point for fuel and water for the train. The station is called ‘Midway’ as it is not only midway between the two cities but also midway between the Equator and the North Pole. This twin city is also known for a great number of flour mills on the Mississippi River which we follow for 140 miles. There are dams and locks to control the flow of water in order for the river to be navigable and floodwaters to be controlled. We have seen at least 12 bald eagles so far flying around the river area. They are too far away and quick to capture on the camera! Overall this has been the dullest day in 6 weeks!!! The photograph of Milwaukee railway station sums up the whole day.
Can you see the station here? It is a dark underground tunnel!
We are currently in the Amtrak Lounge for first class passengers at Chicago’s Union Station awaiting this evening’s departure of the named train Lake Shore Limited to the city of New York.
Entering Union Station – another tunnel but not quite as dark!
Tuesday 29th March
We are still on the train! Today has been a big day for the journey as during the night our section of the train was joined by the section from Portland, Oregon. When we woke we were still crossing the snow covered Cascade Mountains and following the Columbia River. The smoothness of the snow broken only tracks of animals and mountains rising straight from the trackbed was amazing, especially when one can have breakfast at the same time as witnessing this. By late morning we were crossing the Plains of Montana which were littered with drumlins (glacial hills) and erratics (rocks foreign to an area carried here by glaciers).
At 11:30 this morning we called at Shelby, Montana which according to a guide book is one of only three locations in the USA which have an antipode, or land opposite them on the other side of the planet, which is today a scientific base on the Kerguelen Islands.
The sedimentary rocks which are underneath the glacial material contain lots of dinosaur bones and fossils and the small town of Glasgow calls itself ‘the capital of the past’ in this part of the Columbia Basin.
It took until late afternoon before the scenery changed and we were crossing the Badlands of North Dakota. These are an amazing mix of sedimentary rocks sometimes capped by volcanic material and often on top of all of that was yet more glacial deposition. In the cuttings one could see layers of clays, sandstones, coal, granite and rounded pebbles and all the time since leaving the mountains we are seeing white deposits on the surface and in the upper layers of material that are natural salts and minerals such as Rhyolite which in some places is beginning to be extracted. This is all evidence of seas, lakes and giant ice sheets of the past. Glaciation during the Ice Age was a much more complicated series of events here than in Europe and it is possible to identify these different periods in the present day landscape.
We have moved forward by 2 hours since Seattle and have just seen an amazing blood red sunset which appeared to stretch for many, many miles over this big sky landscape.
At about 10:45 tonight we will pass the small town of Rugby which is the geographical centre of the North American continent.
Saturday 26th March
We awoke to an amazing view of the rising sunlight illuminating freshly fallen snow on the northern Cascade Mountains. These mountains form an arc around Seattle and some of the peaks are volcanoes because this is the North American section of the Pacific Rim of Fire.
Our first port of call today was a ride to the top of the Space Needle which is an imposing structure and recognised as the city’s architectural icon as Seattle’s modern identity began with this structure that was designed and built for the 1962 World’s Fair. There are three pairs of steel beams to support the spire and these are buried to a depth of 8 metres and have held the 185m tower during several earthquakes and many gale force winds. To reach the observation deck one rides the vintage external elevators. Close by, is the monorail, which was a peep into the future of mass transportation, but more about that tomorrow. The 1962 fair was entitled ‘The Century 21 Exposition’ and subtitled ‘America’s Space Age World’s Fair’. It is a major tourist attraction and the home of art, theatre, dance and music and considered very retro. The view from the top provides a 360 degree overlook of the city, its mountains and the Puget Sound.
Our afternoon visit was to the Boeing aeroplane factory at Everett to the north of the city. Here we saw the working production lines of the latest 747 jumbo jets, the 777 and 787 ‘Dreamliner’. The 747 continues to be built in an enormous building where one can see at least three complete aeroplanes as well as others in various stages of construction. It can take a few weeks to complete an aeroplane because these are still assembled in the original manner which means a production line that moves between the airframes adding different parts in order to complete the plane. The other two aeroplanes however, are made using a more mobile production line which can mean an aeroplane could be completed in three days. We saw a British Airways 787 outside, nearly ready for delivery, as well as three nearly completed 777s for China.
The tour is absolutely fascinating and the tour centre is now enormous, compared to the first time we took the tour about 25 years ago. Unfortunately cameras are now banned and no photographs are available of the production lines. However when we get home we may be able to add some old ones to give you readers a flavour of the tour.
Thursday 24th March
Last night’s storm had cleared as we left Astoria this morning. We are once again following Highways 1 and 101 so we had to cross the five mile wide mouth of the Columbia River. This is a deep water inlet which is mostly glaciated over several periods of glaciation in North America. This can be seen in the landscape as one looks south of the river the streets climb to their summits in a series of steps rather like San Francisco where each step is the top of the receding glacier thereby producing a ‘valley in valley’ formation as can be witnessed in Calderdale in West Yorkshire (UK) though just a little bigger!
The deep water provides a safe harbour for tankers, container ships and bulk carriers which means that the Astoria-Megler Bridge is a very high level cantilever crossing of the deepest shipping channels and to gain access to this the road spirals and climbs above the waterfront. Having crossed the high level section the crossing is not over until one has crossed the low level bridge which extends northwards for several miles.
We continued on the original Highway 1 where we rounded the headland called Cape Disappointment which is where the Columbia River finally enters the Pacific Ocean and was named by the explorer Captain John Meares who it is said in 1788 interpreted the sandbars and the landscape to mean that there was no major river here. How wrong could he have been!! Further north we skirted Willapa Bay which is one of the country’s oyster grounds as it is sheltered by the Long Beach peninsula and fed by three crystal clear rivers from the mountains. There are two towns here, South Bend and Raymond which, according to the guide books, compete for fame. The former as the oyster capital, the latter as the lumber capital of the Pacific Northwest.
To complete the whole of Highway 1 would involve at least one more day, but we have a train to catch and some aeroplanes to see being built, so we diverted to Olympia and Seattle. Before checking in we crossed the Tacoma Narrows travelling west bound over the replacement Narrows bridge for the one which in the early 1930s collapsed in strong winds. It had already gained the name ‘Galloping Gertie’ as the cables connecting the roadway to the man suspension cables had not been designed to work with and against any winds, so the road deck rippled and rippled even more which finally led to the steel being torn apart. The replacement bridge was designed to replicate the original and the newest bridge, to carry eastbound traffic, uses more concrete but still replicates the design of the originals. The unfortunate thing is that the small information lay-by that the Lisle family discovered in the 1980s no longer exists.
After a thrilling drive on the I-5 (motorway) we checked in to our hotel and are currently waiting for the restaurant to open!!