Pikes Peak Cog Railway Adventure

pikes peak cog railway adventure

Pikes Peak Cog Railway,

located in Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a fantastic ride through dense spruce and aspen forests up to 14,000 feet. Our Pikes Peak Cog Railway Adventure started nearly 2 hours late. There were high winds on Pikes Peak, with gusts up to 90 mph. Because of this, we could only go up to 12,000 feet that day. We were given the option for a partial refund, or a reschedule. Since our tickets were comped and we had traveled nearly 200 miles, we opted to go ahead.


pikes peak cog rly gazebo          pikes peak cog rly stream

pikes peak cog rly sunlight thru trees

While waiting, we browsed the gift shop and snack bar. Tiny O2 canisters were available for those with altitude issues. This is the first time I’d seen them. What a clever idea! Downstairs from the covered seating areas we explored a little stream and enjoyed the shade.

Finally, our train pulled in.

pikes peak cog train

Our conductor, Elliot, was full of goofy tour guide jokes. And our engineer Nick did a great job driving the train up and back. I only had to talk to the man and the boy a couple of times about staying off their phones. The upward journey through the forest, with the heavy scent of pine wafting into the cars, was soothing. We passed several waterfalls, each accompanied by one of Elliot’s anecdotes. Pipe waterfall was particularly entertaining. The water falling out of a pipe…


pikes peak cog rly window crank

I think we had the best seats in the coach. Windows all around and right next to the engineer for the return trip. The side windows have hand cranks, just like the old automobiles. You can actually roll the windows down. The wooden seats are definitely not made for luxury.


pikes peak cogs

You can see the cogs down the middle of the tracks.


pikes peak cog rly hikers

Hikers can ride the train, too. I don’t know about the cost of that.


The train ride was so popular at one time that there were a couple of one-room hotels, which have collapsed and/or burned down since.

hydroelectric caretaker cabin

For many years there was a hydroelectric plant along the line and a caretaker lived in this cabin.


lake moraine from pikes peak

There is a beautiful view of Lake Moraine near the top of the pass. The lake supplies water to Colorado Springs.


windy point pikes peak

We had to stop at the Windy Point Station,

elevation 12,000 feet, due to gale force winds at the 14,000 ft. peak. The wind was blowing so hard that large sticks and numerous small items were picked up and flung over the train and station. We could feel the strong vibration of the wind when we put our hands on the windows.


cog railway car     cog railway outhouse

The Mountain View stop

at 10,000 ft has some interesting sights. There is an old train car, OUT house, and hiking trails which cross several streamlets. It felt nice to get off the train and stretch our legs. We had time for a bit of hiking and photo ops with some interesting scenery.


colorado springs from pikes peak

At one point you can even see the city of Colorado springs in the distance.


pikes peak train

Descending through the trees

gently brought us back to reality. The October weather had been so mild, and the sun so welcome, despite the wind, that we all felt our Pikes Peak Cog Railway Adventure was over too soon.

Check out our YouTube video on this post. To plan your trip click here: Pikes Peak Cog Railway.



The Great Train Adventure

train sta j n me
The Great Train Adventure began with booking our trip. In the past, I had reserved our Amtrak seats online and had our tickets mailed to us. Always sitting on pins and needles until they arrived. Now I can print them out or store them on my smartphone. I opted for the printout, since I am new to the whole smartphone thing.
Packing was the next step. Amtrak has a strict 2 carry-on limit, so we wanted to pack as light as possible, not only because we would be hauling our luggage everywhere, but we also did not want to leave it unattended as we wandered around the train during our 39 hour ride. Our seats were in coach, so there would always be other passengers around us.
train sta j schlwk
My dad dropped us off at the park and ride and we took public transportation, the commuter train, to the express bus that stops just across from Union Station. Inside, we found comfortable seating for our 2 hour wait, and checked in to get our seat assignment. Yak worked on some school lessons while I caught up on reading newsletters and books.
Before boarding I decided we’d better get some food, or we would be stuck with several expensive meals of not so good quality. Fortunately, Union Station has some nice, reasonably priced offerings, so we got some fresh fruit, snacks, yogurt and veggie juice, as well as a hot meal for our dinner.
famima fresh foods
Soon enough we were walking down the tunnel to our platform and boarding our train. Squeezing up the narrow stairs to the upper level is always a challenge, but we made it and stowed our gear. We settled in, ate our dinner and waited for the conductor to check our tickets. Later, we explored the café car, the observation car and the menu for the dining car. Pretty much the same as the last time we rode, several years ago.
Back in our seats, we broke out the gadgets and played video games (the boy) and read (me). No movies on the train anymore. Guess everyone brings their own now. That’s sure what it looks like, anyway, with tablets and smartphones blazing away at every turn.
observation car
Sleeping in coach is not too bad. We had our pillows and blankets (Amtrak no longer provides them) and were plenty cozy in the reclining seats. The movement of the train lulled us to sleep. I woke up just before the café car attendant announced coffee and I had my travel cup ready! It felt good to stretch my legs and walk around a bit. Back at our seats, the boy was beginning to stir and I retrieved our breakfast from the overhead rack – fruit, yogurt and juice. The train ride itself became a pilgrimage as I quietly had my morning devotions and said my rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet.
The long day of slow travel allowed for schoolwork, correcting schoolwork, writing, reading, playing video games and getting off the train at one of two 30 minute stops, to stretch our legs and inspect the wares of local vendors set up in front of the station. We also treated ourselves to lunch in the dining car. The food was not exciting, but the conversation was nice. Amtrak tries to fill its dining tables, so we had a luncheon companion we had previously not known. Conversation ranged from publishing, to video games, to Flagstaff, AZ and several subjects in between.
j train schlwk
Dinner was cheese and crackers and after reading some more and wishing we had brought a dvd or downloaded some videos to watch, we got out our blankets and pillows and slept almost all the way to Colorado.

Metro! Riding the Rails in SoCal

Olvera Street plaza, Los Angeles, CA

Forsaking Colorado’s sub-zero temps, we’ve made our way to Southern California. We’re so happy to leave the snow boots behind, we’ll even forgive the few hours of cloud cover, which blocks the sun for part of each day. It is the rainy season here, after all. Even a few drops of rain won’t put a damper on a day of train riding and Los Angeles is developing a pretty good metrolink system.

Yak and I love riding around on trains. L.A. county’s Metrolink is now connecting with several other SoCal counties, all the way down to San Diego. We have long desired to take a day and ride the buses and trains. My first order of business was to visit the Metrolink website and print out a route map. We studied the best way to approach our adventure and decided to start at the nearest station, get a “TAP” card and load it with a day pass. That way we can reload and reuse the card whenever we are in town, which is several times a year. A day pass is the best deal for us, as it gives unlimited rides on all Metrolink rail and bus lines. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the bus schedule. The car battery was dead and no one was home to help us jump start it, or drop us off at the train station, so we walked to the corner bus stop. The wait became too long and there was no bench, so we walked several blocks to the next bus stop. Here, we found, there were 2 buses to choose from. We took the first one – fortunately we chose well. It deposited us at our station and we purchased our “TAP” cards. 

Feeling very much like Harry Potter at the subway station with Mr. Weasley, we tapped our way onto the platform, where we joined several other folks waiting for the train. Once aboard, we decided to ride to the end of the line in Redondo Beach, but once there, found that the beach was farther than we wanted to walk. Since we hadn’t studied or printed out any bus schedules, we chose to ride the train back to the airport and watch the planes for awhile. In theory, this was a great idea but in reality, tightened security makes it almost impossible to get a good view of the planes taking off and landing, unless you are a ticketed passenger.

hand painted tiles, clay floor tiles, vintage lighting at Union Station

We continued on the train and deciphered which stop would drop us closest to the bus for Union Station. Union Station is beautiful! Outside are several shady/sunny courtyards, with trees, flowers and seating. Inside are newsstands, restaurants, a bar and several other food vendors. Not to mention the vintage seating in the lobby, the colorful, painted tilework and clay tile floors. Very Angeleno. 

Calle Olvera

I had not taken Yak to Olvera Street, just across from Union Station, since he was a baby, so we had to go. He said it felt like we were in Old Mexico. Olvera Street is a story in itself, for another day, as I’m getting a bit long winded with the train adventure. This day, we enjoyed wandering through the market stalls, then stopping for a familiar Mexican ice cream from a vendor in the plaza. 

It was getting time to head back, so even though there are a number of interesting attractions within a short walk from Olvera Street, we made a beeline for Union Station, this time to take a real subway train back to our home station. We changed trains twice, as if we did it every day, before arriving at the station, where we waited for our bus to take us home. And waited. And waited. We finally walked the 2 miles to the house. At least it wasn’t too cold or too dark. Or too far. We heartily agreed to check the bus schedule next time, or make sure the car was running so we could park it at the park & ride lot. Or bring our bikes and rent a bike locker.

Maybe next time we’ll take the special express bus to Disneyland…


Wild Horses of Route 66

Route 66, or more appropriate for this blog post, Will Rogers Highway, passes through miles of open range, BLM land and private ranch land in Arizona. The longest existing stretch of Will Rogers Highway is between Ash Fork, Arizona and Kingman, Arizona. This is where you can see herds of wild horses grazing alongside range cattle. If you’re lucky, you might even see a fast freight train on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line, bringing goodies to Los Angeles from all points east, while you’re stopped to admire the horses.

Talk about a Sunday drive! I get to see this herd on my way back to Ash Fork from Seligman, after playing for Sunday Mass there at St. Francis Catholic Church. Sometimes I even see them from Interstate 40 on my way there from St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Ash Fork.

This curious little fellow spies me and wants to know what I’m up to. The others studiously ignore me. I don’t believe that this is a BLM herd, so my guess is that they are owned by whomever holds the grazing lease on this particular stretch of land. I have come to think of them as “my herd” and look for them whenever I come this way. There is a certain water hole near a blocked off bridge where my youngest son and I have spent many a Sunday hour watching the trains and the horses while picnicking on sandwiches and fruit. 

Every year it is exciting to see the new foals and watch them grow. This year, with all of our wonderful rain, the horses had plenty of water to frolic and cool off in. I tried hard to get some good shots of them playing in the water, but they came out too blurry or too late. I’ll sure miss these guys when we head out on the road full-time. One more item on the list of heartbreaking choices I’ve had to make. I look forward, however, to discovering new herds in new places and especially to having some new adventures to share with you as we travel the Western United States and wherever else God in His good humor decides to take us on our pilgrimage of life.


National Train Day in Williams, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railway runs the Polar Express every Thanksgiving through New Year’s

Ever wonder where the Polar Express goes during the summer?  The Grand Canyon!  Actually, we stumbled upon the Polar Express at National Train Day in Williams, Arizona.  Every year the Grand Canyon Railway plays host to train buffs of all sizes.  Model railways are set up on display, the Harvey Girls come down from Winslow and a round-trip ride from Williams to Cataract Creek is only $15 for adults, $10 for children.  A grand adventure if you don’t want to do the all-day trip to the Grand Canyon and back or if you’ve never been on a train before.

Ladie’s fainting couch

I could not resist snapping shots of the “fainting couch” in the ladies room of the “Williams Flyer”.  The men’s room only had a single chair, but both facilities were far roomier than the current offerings on Amtrak.  The Flyer was Max and Thelma Biegert’s personal railcar, when they owned the Grand Canyon Railway (now owned by Xanterra).  On this day it was the display area for the Fred Harvey china collection, complete with live Harvey Girls, who were more than happy to give commentary and answer questions about the china, the Harvey Company and the hotels it built along the railway.

Harvey Girls and Fred Harvey china
To even begin to describe the romance of train travel to a world enamored of the personal vehicle is an insurmountable task and would take far more room than I like to give to a blog post.  If you’ve ever caught yourself watching a model train go round and round its track, or if you’ve ever sat down with a preschooler and gotten caught up in an episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine”, maybe you know what I mean.  Your next step would be to take a short train ride somewhere – not on a commuter train.  Perhaps you could take a short trip on Amtrak, or if your nearest train station has other options, give it a try.  You might get hooked!
Steam engine

Winslow Harvey Girls
P. O. Box 1
Winslow, AZ 86047 (928) 289-9110

The Winslow Harvey Girls are dedicated volunteers committed to preserving the history of Fred Harvey, the famous Harvey Girls, Mary Colter and the Santa Fe Railroad. They serve as meeters and greeters and ambassadors of goodwill for Winslow and Historic La Posada.
For tour information call Chris at (928) 289-9110 or Marie (detour agent) at (928) 289-3737. http://www.winslowarizona.org/Members.htm