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July 5, 2002
From sea to shining sea (Russell)

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Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain

When we were at Union Station in Chicago two days ago, the Amtrak check-in counter was covered with flyers pleading, "Please tell Congress that America needs Amtrak!"  We heartily agree.  On our first trip across America by train, we have discovered that Amtrak is a wonderful way to see the diversity and splendor of our country (we are already talking about future trips on Amtrak's other routes).  After traveling through Illinois and crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa on the first afternoon of July 3rd, we entered Nebraska shortly before midnight (the train went through the cities of Omaha -- where we crossed the Missouri River -- and Lincoln while we slept).&nbbsp; On the morning of July 4th, we passed further west into Colorado, crossing Denver where we changed from Central Time to Mountain Time.

Our Fourth of July was lazy and relaxing.  In the morning, Cameron and Joss' new friend Goffert taught them how to play the card game of Settlers of Catan; later in the day we returned the favor by having him join in a Lord of the Rings card game (our first-ever four-way game).  Gail met more people, including a couple from Washington D.C. who were very interested in the boys' Horrible Histories and Murderous Math books (the husband used to be a math teacher).

At lunchtime we entered the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and we spent the afternoon crossing this massive mountain range through cities like Granby, Glenwood Springs (near Aspen, where the Roaring Fork River meets the Colorado River), and Grand Junction (where we were able to get out and stretch at the station).  We have to say that despite the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, we were much more impressed by the scenery when we entered Utah later in the evening.  Where the Colorado route took us through more than a dozen tunnels, in Utah's Ruby Canyon we passed through canyons of red mountains and vistas of painted desert as far as the eye could see.

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For purple mountain's majesties, above the fruited plain

At 9:00 PM we arrived in the tiny town of Helper, Utah, where two years ago we had had to wait for more than three hours for a late Amtrak train.  We tried to get out and visit for old times' sake, but the train didn't stop there long enough.  As we turned in for the night, we passed through a town where someone was lighting sparklers in their front yard.  That was the extent of our Fourth of July fireworks.

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America, America, God shed His grace on thee

All four of us slept much better on our second night (we asked if the route was smoother, but the porter replied that we were just getting used to the train), and by the time we awoke bright and early on July 5th we had already crossed the Nevada state line and changed from Mountain Time to Pacific Time.  After a breakfast of French toast (strangely, the dining car ran out of pancakes), Cameron and Joss spent the morning catching up on schoolwork (we are able to plug in our PC in our compartment).

At midday we crossed the border into California, our home state.  Here the train crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains that had presented such a formidable obstacle to the California settlers a century and a half ago; the sights out the window included the infamous Donner Lake, where most of the traveling Donner Party perished in the snow due to a combination of poor planning and bad weather.

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And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea

By now we were pretty burned out on the dining car's offerings (the food never did agree with Gail), so we had a much more informal lunch downstairs in the lounge car (sandwiches and chips).  While Cameron and Joss played with Goffert, Russell worked on the PC and Gail put the finishing touches on her world map embroidery.  At 6:30 PM, our 2,422-mile train adventure finally and reluctantly came to an end as we pulled into the station at Emeryville, California.

With a step off of the train, our trip around the world officially became a memory.  After a year on the road, we are home again.


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