Last August, we got a jump start on planning our upcoming spring break trip. The first thing we booked was our return flight from Albuquerque to Chicago using air miles. Unfortunately in the months since August, the airline changed its flight schedule, making us take off three hours earlier than planned. This would have reduced our final day of vacation into to a “wake up and head to the airport” day. We tried to have our flight rebooked to Sunday, but that was not an option when paying with reward miles so we came up with an alternative plan … Amtrak.
We’ve always been interested in Amtrak service, but the timing and price has never worked out. Since we have an extra day to spare, we’ve booked tickets on the Saturday overnight Southwest Chief train from Santa Fe (Lamy Station) to Chicago Union Station, arriving on Sunday afternoon. This will give us another adventure to look forward to, rather than simply returning home quickly by air. A big part of the appeal is that the route follows the historic Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe tracks that made large areas of the southwest accessible in the second half of the 19th century. The line was extended piece by piece until it eventually connected Chicago and Los Angeles. The route is loaded with history. Vintage stations still stand by the tracks in many towns, and the Santa Fe Super Chief of the 1930s is remembered fondly for elegant and luxurious travel.
The Fred Harvey Company is strongly associated with the Chief as well. It was a pioneer in the hospitality industry, operating cafes and hotels along the route for the increasing numbers of rail riders. They practically invented the chain restaurant with their Harvey House line of dining establishments and the company played a big part of the tourism boom at the Grand Canyon. Historic hotels like El Tovar at the Grand Canyon and La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico still serve guests in grand Fred Harvey style. The book “Appetite for America” is a great read describing this time period, while the 1946 film “The Harvey Girls” offers a fun but inaccurate musical representation starring Judy Garland.
We booked a private “roomette” on board one of the first-class Superliner sleeper cars, which will provide us with two facing seats, a giant picture window and turn-down service that converts the cabin into bunked sleeping quarters at night. All meals are included with the cost of a roomette, and we’ll be able to reserve at our choice of three seating times in the dining car. We’ll definitely be making use of the observation and cafe/bar cars as well. Over the course of our 1,265 mile journey we’ll climb to more than 7,800 feet in elevation over Raton Pass at the New Mexico/Colorado state line and cross both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers – there will be plenty to see.
We’re looking forward to our first Amtrak experience!