Saturday, August 24, 2013

Trains, Planes and Cameras

Vacations are wonderful, yet challenging times. Packing, getting to the airport, wondering if your luggage will make the transfer, you know.  From 36,000 feet I watched a UPS jet speeding across our path, and was amazed at all the air traffic we saw at that altitude. Car rentals - thank goodness for GPS - how did we ever travel without it? Portland is famous for the International Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, both of which we enjoyed. But my faithful Panasonic Lumix had a fatal accident, and I had to rush to Best Buy for a replacement, a Cannon. I'm struggling with the focus on it, but it does have a 50X zoom.

We decided to have a real adventure by riding Amtrak's Empire Builder from Portland to Glacier National Park, with a sleeper compartment for the overnight trip. Well, the sleeper "roomette" was more like an oversized closet. The facing seats turned into one bed, while the upper berth pulled down near the ceiling, leaving no room to sit up in. We were warned that we would have to wait a while during the night, while the rest of our train (including the dining car) joined us in Spokane, so we took off up the Columbia River. All Aboard!

The Columbia Gorge is famous, and I thought about Lewis and Clark, who must have been so relieved to actually approach the end of their trip. The river has many dams on it now, and huge electric towers line both sides. At one point, we saw lots of parasail enthusiasts having fun.

With no dining car, our attendant served a delicious cold supper and champagne in our room, then we went up to the observation car, since our windows did not face the river. Also, it was great fun talking to the other passengers. Cheers!

Portland was cloudy, but as the afternoon progressed, we finally saw Mt. Hood in the distance. This is pretty good with that 50X zoom, and a little more help from Photoshop. Taking photos from a speeding train is a challenge too. As long as you focus on something far enough away, it can be clear, but anything too close to the train is just a blur. The clear spots move away fast, and you still get the trees in the foreground. The new camera struggled to focus on moving targets, and I finally just used my iPhone, which just snaps away without a problem focusing.  After avoiding smartphones for years, I finally got one this summer and just love it. We were able to look up the phone number for the car rental place to tell them we would be late. But the best thing is being able to send those photos directly to Facebook!

After a while, the green Columbia Gorge turned into dry, dry cliffs. I felt like we were at the Nile and I should look for the Temple at Karnak around the next turn.

Electrical generation is a big thing up here, between hydro-power from the river, and acre after acre of windmill farms along the shore. I explained the dangers of these windmills to our seat mates.

As the sun finally set behind us, we climbed into our beds for a good night's sleep. I woke up to find us stopped at 1:30, about as I expected, waiting for the rest of the train from Seattle to join us in Spokane. Woke again at 5:30, still unmoving. Uh-oh. Turns out that the delay wasn't an hour, but three hours!

Actually, this turned out well for us. We were supposed to reach Whitefish, MT at 7:30, with just enough time for breakfast, missing much beautiful scenery in the dark. But now, we enjoyed mountains, greenery and rivers in the morning sun! A much nicer way to spend that time. Apparently, Amtrak has problems with keeping schedules, according to the other experienced riders we met. Since we didn't have specific time requirements, we just relaxed and enjoyed it!  The problem is, we have been off the train for almost 12 hours, and I am still trying to find my land legs! The room keeps swaying just the way it did while were on the train!

Tomorrow, the Road to the Sun on the Red Bus.

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