One of the most popular western trains, the California Zephyr traverses much of the West's spectacular scenery. Departing from Denver, you'll snake upward on the Front Range of the Rockies and cross the Great Divide. As you go by train, try to imagine how this daunting landscape must have looked to the first settlers who came by horse or on foot.
To go through this exceptionally rugged terrain, the train takes numerous switch-backs as it gains altitude. Traveling through the first of 29 tunnels, it's easy to see the huge obstacles that early railroad companies had to surmount. In the Roosevelt National Forest, the train crests the Continental Divide at the famed, six-mile-long Moffat Tunnel. When it opened in 1928, the tunnel reduced the time it took to cross the Continental Divide from hours to minutes. In the midst of the tunnel, you will reach a high point of more than 9,000 feet above sea level.
As the train runs into the deep Gore and Glenwood Canyons, sheer rock walls towering above the Colorado River envelope the train as it glides through. As the train skirts the river, you'll see rafters taking advantage of this natural wild ride. Fiery red mountains and spectacular rock formations are highlights of the Colorado River Valley, particularly in Ruby Canyon.
Exiting the valley, you'll spot Grand Mesa, the world's largest flat-topped mountain. Then you'll head across the Utah desert to Salt Lake City. From there, the colorful Nevada desert will lead you towards the High Sierras and California's famed Donner Pass.
Finally, this journey that has taken you to the heights of exhilaration ends with yet one more visual masterpiece — the city by the bay, San Francisco.