For an unforgettable travel experience, the journey is the destination. A transatlantic crossing on the QE2 is an example. A flight to the UAE on an Etihad A380, in a luxury first class suite like The Residence, is another. Another unforgettable experience is seeing the great American West from the windows of the Rocky Mountaineer train.
A Canadian company created the Rockies to the Red Rocks railway experience. The train takes travelers through the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, showcasing the beautiful scenery of the West. Pulled by a pair of locomotives, each with 2500 horsepower, the train climbs the mountains, through tunnels and follows the Colorado River. It shows passengers a great view that they won’t see from their cars. No driving, no traffic, no people, no pitstops for food or bathroom. Everything is on board.
As the company puts it, visitors will “enjoy two days of breathtaking scenery including vast canyons, inspiring deserts, natural arches and majestic hoodoos.” Hoods are sandstones or pillars, such as the Three Sisters in Arches National Park.
Travelers can choose to start their Rockies trip at Red Rocks in Denver, Colorado and travel west to Moab, Utah. Or they can board the train at Moab, a gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and head east. Moab is known for hiking, rafting, 4-wheeling and other outdoor activities. The nearly 400-mile journey takes place entirely in daylight so passengers can see the view through the train’s five-metre-high windows.
In addition to mountains, forests, midlands, red rocks and the mighty Colorado River, the train passes orchards and farms where peaches, cherries and grapes grow. Passengers have seen moose, red-tailed hawks, gray herons, ducks, wild turkeys and bald eagles that look “just like the one in the US quarter.” On the human side, hikers can’t resist mooning the train.
The trains have six passenger cars. Each car holds a maximum of 52 passengers and is usually served by three hosts. One serves as a guide detailing the history of the area, from polygamy in pre-state Utah to train robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s final battle with the law in Parachute, CO. Other points of interest include NBA star Karl Malone’s massive project home, the former Rocky Flats nuclear bomb site and the studio where the Grateful Dead recorded ‘Coal Creek Canyon’.
The quality of the light and the western setting gives the area a cinematic quality. Passengers can focus on the view, as the Rocky Mountaineer does not have Wi-Fi, internet access or in-seat video. Cell phone coverage in the Rockies is also hard to come by.
The season runs from April to October. A spokesman said the travel season ends in October not because of the increasing cold and the possibility of snow, but because of the loss of light.
The train is now resting and the tracks are covered with snow. But come April, the weekly boardings will bring hundreds of passengers from all over the world.
Rocky Mountaineer has spacious passenger cars, while a higher class of service offers access to lounge cars with bars and tables and chairs. The train has no sleeping compartments. Instead, the two-day, one-night trip includes an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, CO, known for its hot springs and “world’s largest hot spring pool.”
En route, passengers can relax in their reclining seats and watch the scenery go by. Hosts push carts down the aisle. A culinary expert asks what gourmet breakfast, lunch or dinner a passenger would like on their large tray table.
To make the route possible, tunnels were cut through the mountains. The 6.2-mile Moffett Tunnel, at 9,200 feet above sea level, was built at a cost of 28 lives. More recently, at least one tunnel was “lighted up”, blasted away to create a better view.
Rocky Mountaineer is a Canadian company that has been in the passenger train business since 1990. In 1999, it set a record with a 41-car train, the largest passenger train in Canadian history. In 2017 the company served its two millionth visitor. And having launched Mandarin-language departures on several Canadian routes, the company may be well-prepared for the much-anticipated return of Chinese tourists in 2023.
Rocky Mountaineer operates three passenger routes in Canda, Vancouver to Jasper via Kamloops, Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise via Kamloops and Vancouver to Jasper via Whitter and Quesnel, all through the spectacular Canadian Rockies . For those who have never been, these Canadian national parks equal their US counterparts in stunning beauty.
The company began planning and researching a US service before the pandemic, working with Union Pacific, which owns the tracks. As a Rocky Mountaineer spokesperson noted, “Union Pacific’s CEO is passionate about passenger rail.”
The company somehow pushed Red Rocks to the Rockies in 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It successfully ran a short season starting in August of that year. Most of the staff, hired for their customer service skills, are from the Denver area. Rocky Mountaineer ran a full season from April to October 2022 and is looking forward to an even more successful 2023.
Rocky Mountaineer says customers are usually couples, sometimes families with children, as well as affiliated groups. These can be four teachers traveling together, moms and sons, fathers and daughters, or “four girlfriends having a blast,” a spokesperson said. He added that business and corporate groups, such as meetups and incentives, are also frequent customers, enjoying a drink, a friendly game of cards or simple conversation after COVID-19. “The tax accountants were crazy!” he said.
The basic Rockies to the Red Rocks package starts at $1456. Higher service categories and trip extensions are also available, such as a luxury motor coach from Moab for Arches National Park and Dead Horse State Park or to Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.