Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Amtrak Adventure Day 17 - Los Angeles to San Francisco

If you have to start your day at a train station, Union Station, Los Angeles is not a bad place to do it. The Spanish Colonial Revival building not only looks good on the outside, but is equally impressive inside with a painted ceiling in the waiting room which, while appearing to be wood, is actually steel. 

If the idea of the forthcoming hours on the train are enough to drive you outside for as long as possible before getting on board, there is an outdoor patio decorated with mosaic tiles and a fountain as an alternative place to wait. 

Not all the station is in daily use. There used to be a restaurant and a large ticket office but these are now closed to the public and, this being LA, used only for filming and special events.

From Los Angeles we were heading to San Francisco on the Coast Starlight, reputedly one of the most scenic of Amtrak's routes. Two hours into the journey we began to see why. The train tracks follow the coastline from just south of Santa Barbara for over a hundred miles north. At first they run right alongside the beach. 

Then as the gradient increases continue on along the clifftops.  The views are stunning.

For part of the journey we were accompanied by a flock of pelicans. It's the first time I've ever seen pelicans in flight. 

We passed the spot where a ruptured pipeline had spilled oil into the sea on May 19th forcing nearby campgrounds to close over Memorial Day Weekend and instead be used as bases for the clean-up crews. 

The train passes through Vandenberg Air Force Base which is usually off limits to all but military personnel and a handful of residents who have bought up land sold off by the Airforce. This means that passengers on the trains are the only other people able to enjoy the views at this point.   

After San Luis Obispo the train moves away from the coast and passes through several tunnels as it climbs the mountainside. At once point it winds around a curve so huge that the front of the train can be seen from the back carriages! 

Taken from the back carriage of this train

The brown landscape could easily be mistaken for sand dunes, but in fact is more likely a result of the years of drought.  It changed again as we moved further north towards Salinas which is known as "The Salad Bowl of the World" because of the amount of lettuce it produces, and then towards both the "Artichoke Capital of the World" and "The Garlic Capital of the World" which need little explanation. I must admit you could smell the latter as we went by.  

Our journey actually ended at Oakland as Amtrak does  not go into San Francisco itself, but provides a connecting bus service to deliver passengers downtown. After an eleven hour train journey, the idea of the bus transfer was not particularly appealing but the ride over the Bay Bridge and into the lights of the city at night more than made up for the inconvenience.    

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