Day 43

Thursday 31st March

Last night we left Chicago in darkness and rain which continued until late morning when we reached New York State.

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Our train was split at Albany, the State capital with one section going to Boston and ours to New York City. Albany is on the River Hudson and before railways was the place where boats could leave the Hudson, having travelled from New York, and use the Erie Canal to gain access to the Great Lakes. Its other claim to fame was, for a while, its Empire State Plaza was the tallest building in the state outside New York City.

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From Albany the railway line followed the east side if the river, sometimes so close to the water, that erosion was having to be repaired. It was easy to see how the Hudson Valley is a rift valley created by earth movements which dropped the valley bottom from the volcanic mountains on each side. We passed through short tunnels through some of these mountains and quarries where road and river are used to transport the rock. This volcanic rock is a geological reason why Manhattan can have so many skyscrapers because their foundations are deeply rooted in solid rock.

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Before passing under the George Washington suspension bridge we passed through the small town of Poughkeepsie which is infamous for being the home of a likely drug runner in the film French Connection. Fans of the film will know that ‘Popeye Doyle’ accused his assailant of paying a lot of attention to part of his anatomy!

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Having passed the riverside park beneath the George Washington Bridge we spent most of the rest of the journey to Penn Station underground.

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An interesting taxi ride took us to our hotel at West 49th and Broadway and our room on the 34th floor.

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Day 42

Wednesday 30th March

Overnight we crossed North Dakota and in the early hours arrived in Montana.

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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.

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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.

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Entering Union Station – another tunnel but not quite as dark!

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Day 41

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).

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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.

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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.

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Day 40

Monday 28th March

Today is another getting there day only this time we had chance for a leisurely lunch at Pike Brewery and Restaurant. Delicious! In the late afternoon we joined the long distance train called the Empire Builder which is to take us over the next 2 and a bit days to Chicago, however, our start was changed to a bus as parts of the railway line had been washed away by the recent snow and rain. Our bus took us to Everett where we joined the train and although a little late made a speedy departure. A noticeable aspect of this journey is how friendly the train crew are.

IMG_0840 IMG_0841 IMG_0845 IMG_0846 IMG_0851IMG_0858 IMG_0860 Although this is a modern train it evokes images and experiences of train travel in the Art Deco times when the USA had streamlined steam locomotives hauling these massive trains across the country. As we write we are in a ‘sleepette’ which is a cosy 2 berth compartment on the top floor of the coach. The lower deck is reserved for storage, luggage, any cargo and the home of the carriage attendant. We had evening dinner and because that was upstairs also it provided us with views of the Cascade Mountains before sunset. The tracks by now have climbed more than 2800ft and we are heading towards the 7.8 mile long Cascade Tunnel which cuts under the Stevens Pass (where the road goes) at 4061 ft above sea level. The tunnel is possibly the longest in the USA and was completed in 1929.

IMG_0884 IMG_0898 IMG_0900 IMG_0901 As we write the darkness is pierced by the eerie horn of the diesel locomotive as we cross roads and rivers and past pools of light which are little hamlets. We have just had a stop at Wenatchee which is probably the last we will see today as our carriage attendant is about to make the beds. We will put our clocks forward one hour to Mountain Time before we go to sleep in readiness for crossing the State of Montana tomorrow. Here we are in the Columbia Basin which is a product of volcanic eruptions and earth movements. We will see more of this tomorrow.

IMG_0870 IMG_0874 IMG_0876 IMG_0877 IMG_0878 The beds are now made so we will say ‘Goodnight!’

Day 39

Sunday 27th March

As it is Sunday our mission was to eat Sunday lunch again, having achieved this each weekend since departure. We decided to do this Downtown and so to get there we went by the 1962 Monorail which is an exciting 2 minute ride where, if you are lucky enough to get the front seat, you can sit next to the driver! We achieved 38mph during our elevated journey to the Westlake Centre in the city centre. The Monorail was designed by Alweg Rapid Transit Systems and each year carries around 1.5 million passengers. According to the driver there have been few changes to the system but plenty of maintenance.

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Upon alighting at Westlake one is surrounded by Art Deco buildings. One of them called the Seattle Tower was built in 1929 and is a combination of brick, multiple types of granite, steel and glass. The Art Deco decoration makes the 27 storeys look taller than they are. Nearby is the Smith Tower erected in 1914 and was the city’s first skyscraper. With 35 floors this must have been a challenging building to construct because steel frameworks for such buildings had only just started to be used. It is interesting that nearby is a copy of the Flatiron building of Manhattan in New York City. Further downtown is the Pioneer Building built in 1892 from red brick and terracotta tiles which during the Gold Rush of the mid 19th century had 48 mining companies with offices and equipment stores to support the prospectors.

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We called in at King Street railway station which is our point of departure tomorrow for our train journey to Chicago.

IMG_0813 IMG_0815 We ate lunch at the Pike Brewery and Restaurant which is close to Pike Place Market which was established in 1907 and is the country’s oldest continually operating Farmer’s Market. It was a wet morning but as the photographs show by the afternoon when we returned to the Space Needle station the sun finally emerged but it did not last! We have had heavy showers for the rest of the day and according to local TV nearly a foot of snow has fallen over the high road passes of the Cascade Mountains.

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Day 38

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.

IMG_0665IMG_0731 IMG_0733 IMG_0734 IMG_0737 IMG_0740 IMG_0742 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.

IMG_0754 IMG_0755 IMG_0756 IMG_0757 IMG_0759 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.

Day 37

Friday 25th March

Today we revisited the Boeing Museum of Flight after some 25 years and found it to be a much more expanded and informative experience. Built around the Red Barn which is Boeing’s original factory for making wooden aeroplanes, the expanded galleries show and tell the story of not only Boeing’s 100 years of aviation but the story of everyone’s aviation and space exploration. One can see Boeing aeroplanes of all ages cleverly displayed and even hanging from the roof.

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Outside is the first Air Force One, Presidential aeroplane used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, as well as the first Boeing 727, 737, 747 and 787. Awaiting in a pavilion due to open in June 2016 are Second World War aeroplanes as well as a Concorde from British Airways.

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It is great to revisit because now the present day construction of aeroplanes is linked to the museum at Boeing Field and whilst we were there we saw two brand new 737s land, presumably after test flights from the nearby construction facility at Renton. One of these was for delivery to Ryanair (they are one of the biggest operators of 737s).

Later we moved to our hotel in the shadow of the Space Needle and were surprised at how big the room is and how marvellous the view.


With darkness setting in but having only travelled 30 miles we are definitely not ‘sleepless in Seattle’!

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Day 36

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.

IMG_0397 IMG_0401 IMG_0403 IMG_0408 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.

IMG_0411 IMG_0416 IMG_0418 IMG_0421 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.

IMG_0430 IMG_0431 IMG_0432IMG_0433 IMG_0437 IMG_0438 After a thrilling drive on the I-5 (motorway) we checked in to our hotel and are currently waiting for the restaurant to open!!

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Day 35

Wednesday 23rd March

Today was not a good day on Highway 101. We had torrential rain, mountain fog and endless roadworks where groundwater had sent the land to the ocean. The dark rocks of Oregon did not help for as the day progressed it appeared to get darker even though it was still not evening. A highlight was the bridge across the Siuslaw River at Florence which since its construction has proudly displayed its Egyptian obelisks and mini Art Deco skyscrapers as sentinels to the crossing of the river.

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We had fleeting glimpses of the coast but little to engage anyone until Astoria. This is America’s oldest city west of The Rockies and is a mix of past and present along the estuary of the Columbia River and the high hills that overlook the city. It has been nicknamed as ‘Little San Francisco’ because of the way the streets climb to the outskirts from the river. The city is an active fishing port and the location for giant tankers and container ships to pick up pilots for entry to the port of Seattle. Before the 20th century Chinese immigrants lived and worked here to support the fur trade established by Jacob Astor in 1811 but soon salmon fishing and logging took over. The 101 Highway crosses the mouth of the Columbia River by the cantilever and high-level bridge built in 1966. We ate dinner in the shadow of this bridge and from the table saw bald eagles, sea lions, harbour seals and numerous sea birds as well as outside hearing the calls of the sea lions from beneath the wharfside buildings.

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It’s 9:00 p.m. and the storm the weather service predicted has arrived. Strong winds and rain off the Pacific but the photo from the hotel entrance might not show it as it really is … a bit wetter than Manchester rain!!


Day 34

Tuesday 22nd March

Today was a getting there day though we passed through some amazing locations with long wave swept beaches, rugged cliffs and deeply incised valleys to get from Eureka to our overnight stop at Reedsport. We started under heavy skies and light rain with clouds and mist clinging to the mountains where temperatures dropped quickly. Warning signs reported difficult conditions on the east bound high level routes to the Interstate 5. In fact, at breakfast time, some truckers who had overnighted in the hotel were commenting about their companys provision of extra chains for their journey eastwards.

IMG_0291IMG_0304IMG_0292 IMG_0293 IMG_0296 IMG_0297 Our journey took us through more forest of giant redwood trees, some locations having been used in films such as The Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park. We passed through a sprawling little town called Crescent City and discovered that not much was there because most of the place had been destroyed by a tidal wave following the 1964 Alaskan earthquake and more recently by the 2011 Japanese tsunami. We continued through the forest passing the smallest of places trying to attract tourists by whatever means possible, such as the massive statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox, along what is known as The Trail of Tall Tales!



IMG_0305IMG_0311 IMG_0315Back down to earth we passed through Coos Bay and North Bend where the lumber industry sees the waterfront lined with logs, cut timber and wood chip in huge piles waiting to be loaded onto ocean going ships. These ships dock here because of the deep water resulting from glaciation. The wood chips are sent to Asia where they are turned into paper.

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