Glenwood Springs mini vacation on the Calfornia Zephyr


The following is a trip report on a mini vacation I took with my parents to Glenwood Springs on Jan 8th and 9th 2008. I’d always wanted to ride in a train across the Rockies so a trip to Glenwood Springs and back from Denver sounded like a great way to get the train experience without spending too much tom. The plan was to leave Union Station in Denver on Thursday morning on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, get off at Glenwood Springs where we’d stay the night in a budget motel and come back the following afternoon via the train. My initial plan was to drive to Glenwood and let my folks ride the train, I’d stay with them in the hotel and the the following day I’d drive them back : boring!

I set the wheels of the trip in motion by booking the tickets on Amtrak’s website, pretty painless, one simply prints out a page containing a bar code that you then scan when you get the the station at a little ticket machine. The machine then prints out your tickets and you’re ready to roll. Booking the hotel was a little more of a challenge, there were a ton of budget hotels in the area with prices around $80 and we’d need something close to the railroad station as we’d be on foot once off the train – middle of winter, snow, ice, heavy cases – not good. After some price comparisons on we decided to go with an upscale hotel and settled on a room at the historic Hotel Colorado. It was a short distance .5 of a mile over the bridge crossing I70 next to the railroad station in Glenwood. Booking with was simple enough although I’d signed up to the web site using an alias (who uses their real, full name, to log in anyway) and at the end of the reservation I found that the booking was made under this name! I was a little worried that we’d have problems during checking if I was ID’d but it turned out we were ok. A note about booking hotels online: I called the Hotel Colorado just to check the prices and it seems that our price of $125 from was quite a bargain compared to their price of $175 they quoted me. I also learned that buys up rooms in bulk and at a discount and have no connection to Hotel Colorado an employee told me in a rather grumpy tone.

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After 4 hours sleep I woke up at 5.30 am on Thursday morning, picked up my parents and sis and drove down to Union Station in Denver. Scanning the barcode printout that I’d gotten from the Amtrak website worked flawlessly and the little blue ticket machine spat out ticket for our there and back journey. Upon reading the tickets I learned that we might not even be able to leave the Denver due to the fact that an ID was required. My Dad had his South African drivers license but my mom had not brought any form of ID with her, god know why, this is America, we are at war god damn it! After further inquiry by my now panicking parents we learned that they don’t normally check ID so we calmed down somewhat and boarded the train after a slight detour out of the station in the opposite direction of the platforms. We also learnt that the seating was not reserved so we could sit anywhere. The carriage we entered was petty full and judging my the inhabitants who were mostly sleeping and bedded down with open coolers of food and drink and sleeping bags, they were going all the way to California. The car was also a tad smelly, reeking of sweaty and sleepy people, reminded me of a few past gone Greyhound bus trips, so I was glad when the conductor opened up a fresh car for those just going to Glenwood and Grand Junction. So we manhandled our luggage in the spacious overhead compartments and grabbed some nice seats next to each other.


The last time I was on a train was on a European jaunt when I was 24 so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but WOW, the automobile is huge step backwards from the train, well at least this train. Firstly the thing was so bloody quiet, as quiet as a Bently Flying Spur or hight end limo. Secondly the space, tons of foot room, at least 3 feet or so between the rows of seats and those big seats recline, way way back almost like a dentist’s chair! The lack of noise is due to the fact that the cars are double decker and this helps to isolate you from the noisy clanking and cluncking that trains like to make. An interesting fact is that the trains from my motherland, merry England are mostly single decker due to the low height of the 100 year old bridges. The observation car was not too bad either. I’d envisioned it having a totally clear roof, perhaps this was on a different train, but it’s fun to sit facing outwards looking out the big windows and watching the world go by. I shot lots of video but I did note that the windows were pretty dirty on the outside so I don’t know how clear the video will come out seeing as it was shot in HD. Another observation was the lack of 110v outlets for us gadget junkies. The only play you’ll find them is in the tiny restrooms so if your willing to spend to quality time on the job then this may be an option. The train I was on had a changing room adjacent to the toilets that had a power outlet in it too so I ended up spending 25 mins in there as I need to charge my camcorder batter. This room was a lot bigger and less smelly than the restrooms. I was also told there was an outlet in the observation deck too so if you don’t want to spend long periods in the thunder hut, this may be your only option. A passenger I ended up chatting with on the way back told me she had found an outlet next to her armrest below the window but it was partially blocked by the sear so god knows if it worked or you could even get a power cord to plug into it.

The scenery was spectacular and it was fun to see many familiar places from the perspective of the train rather that on the ground. I’d often seen the train wind up the tracks west of Rocky Flats going towards Eldorado Canyon parallel to Highway 93 but looking East from the train across the plains was great. The same was true of the road from Rollinsville to the Moffet Tunnel, I’ve always wanted to be on the train as it blazed past us into darkness of the tunnel. I also had visions of dropping trow for the passengers of the train when in the parking lot too!

Some of the best scenery were in the canyons that only the train goes through. We were high up on the side of the steep canyon wall with the Colorado river below us.

The Route – ???

The night before the trip I has browsed Al’s interwebs for info one our trip and a possible detailed google map of the trains route. It appears that the new functionality that google has for showing directions for public transport does not include Amtrak’s route from Denver to Glenwood and there was nothing other than simple lists of the train’s stops online. I knew the rough route of the Zephyr as she headed out of Denver, wove her way around the sw of the city, to the Moffat tunnel and then on to winter park and up to Granby. It was after here that things became a little fuzzy and the train pops out again at Dotzero and does the Glenwood Canyon thing for 30 miles. It seems there is no up to date detailed satellite like maps of the route so I suppose if one were really bored one could follow the rails on google maps to see exactly where she goes.

Glenwood Springs – Hotel Colorado and Glenwood Brewpub

Once we detrained @ 153pm we figured we’d have to lug our kit over the footbridge to the Hotel but we were pleasantly surprised when we were met by a nice man wielding a Hotel Colorado sign. Leonard wisked us to the hotel where we managed to check in under my secret alias. The Hotel Colorado is spectacular, well at least in my book it was. High ceilings abound and the christmas decorations were still up too. It was great, lovely early nineteenth century decor abounded, roaring fires and comfy sofas in the lobby and the place was pretty empty. It seems that the Hotel Colorado has been frequented by dignitaries such as President Taft and President Roosevelt and it is at the Hotel Colorado that the teddy bear got it’s name. See this page this link for the history of the Hotel Colorado .

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After a 2 hour catnap, I needed to catch up on my 4 hours of sleep, a few small glass of some nice Shiraz that I’d brought with me and a warm shower we hunkered down to negotiate dinner plans. After intense negotiations, some of which would make Kofi Annon blush It was decided to head for the Glenwood Brewpub. Fish and chips all round and a flagon of ale took care of our two primordial needs after which we headed home over the icy footbridge and lounged like royalty in the lobby feating on bread pudding and pots of fresh coffee.

Some interesting tips and tricks I learned:

  • Trains are a great means of transport and comfy as hell if you have the time go by train
  • Trains in the US are normally late – or so says our Hotel shuttle guy Leonard
  • No 110v outlets available unless you head to the bathroom!
  • has great rates but when you register use your real name 🙂
  • Ask about shuttle service to the hotel, never crossed my mind that they’d be a nice van waiting to pick us up
  • If you speak to the hotel staff very nicely you’ll get great service and possibly get a freebie of two
  • Shooting video through the train window may or may not work due to dirty windows