Friday, August 26, 2011

Train Travel in the United States

My friends are often amazed that I regularly use Amtrak as a method of transportation to crisscross the U.S. Usually I use the train as an easy way to get out of New Mexico and to places like Southern California or back to the Midwest. It is relatively easy travel, if one is able to manage the comfort level of sitting in one place for a journey that can take more than a day.

Even though I take a book and my mala, I often find myself looking out of the window to watch quiet country sides, rural rivers, cornfields and sleepy morning towns with their old pick up trucks and run down cafes.

As Karen LR of Sew and Sow Life wrote on a previous blog, "i love the perspective of seeing the backsides of towns, and other off the beaten track parts of the country." It is true. I love seeing the vibrant gardens of large home properties that line the fencerow along the railroad tracks. Some gardens look to be planted and maintained by careful planners who want to express a hello to travelers who pass by their lots. Irresistible iris patches, joyous gladiolas and perfect peony beds all thoughtfully planted for the delight of train travelers. I've even had glimpses of meticulously placed and tidy outhouses, complete with arbors of old climbing roses or morning glories.

Not only can one see gardens everywhere, but from a seat on the train, the traveler can see woodpiles, some stacked with a precise geometry, other piles looking haphazard between house and garage. Among the gardens and woodpiles, there are at times old trucks, wasting farm implements and folk sculptures built from worn and salvaged motorcycle parts. This is the countryside and backsides of towns that one can see in these United States.

Last year, in early December, I traveled from Albuquerque to Palm Springs by rail. The passenger train went through the industrial railyards of the Southwestern U.S. In some of the railyards, I was privy to a view of the front yards of broken down men and women who made their shanty town style homes between the train tracks and dilapidated warehouses. That December day was one of those windy days with a crude wind and a late afternoon sunset made violent by the approaching rain clouds. From my seat on the train, I saw groups of people huddled around shared fires. Their ragged tents and canvas lean-to shelters serving as their homes during the approaching winter. I could not identify a meticulous outhouse.

Besides looking out of the window while traveling by train, I enjoy eating my own home-made meals. Before I leave, I plan my carry-aboard meals and snacks. Usually I have an evening meal, a snack for late night, a simple breakfast and an afternoon snack. Sometimes, I carry beer or wine to enhance my dining and travel experience. As a coach passenger, it is not allowed to bring alcohol since Amtrak expects passengers to purchase alcohol from the cafe vendor. But I like to have my own beer or wine. It helps to make the trip more relaxing.

It is not difficult to travel by train. Since I have more time than money, it often suits me to travel alone and use the train. The slow movement of the train gives me a clear sense of being a traveler. Although it is possible to see into the back sides of sleepy towns, it is also possible to reflect on why I call myself a mystical gypsy.


  1. This post reminds me of taking both the Amtrak and commuter rail into NYC and seeing first the backyards of houses and patches of woods (and lots of deer), then the graffiti-splattered walls and fences just outside of the city and finally the towers of Manhattan coming into view. Makes me want to see it again before I leave but I won't have time. Hard to imagine being so far away from the city. J is debating whether he wants to take a train or plane back to MA after leaving me in NM. I think I'll send this to him. I vote for the train!

  2. What a different experience it is travelling in the US by train. I have spent my entire childhood travelling by trains across India as it was the only mode of travel that most Indians those days could afford. We saw a lot of country side and villages, farm lands and vast open spaces. But today when I travel by train I see overcrowding, shanty towns, and virtually no open spaces! I would love to travel in the US by train. I am a railway kid ( my father worked for the Indian railways) and I love trains wherever they are! Lovely post and thanks for the information!