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The name Coast Starlight is derived from the names of two former Southern Pacific trains, the Coast Daylight and the Starlight.

The Sunset Limited is descendent of the former Southern Pacific Railway's service of the same name. It is the oldest named train in continuous operation, with service dating to 1894.

The Empire Builder operates daily between Chicago and Seattle/Portland and was named for James J. Hill, the builder of the Great Northern Railway.

Snapshots of America: Five Weeks and 7,400 Miles

Circling the Country On Amtrak

by Ted and Sylvia Blishak

Klamath Falls, Oregon

Klamath Falls, Halloween Eve: The Coast Starlight heads south. Our Superliner Bedroom includes a lower bed, chair and private toilet and shower stall. We slip between crisp sheets: the train rocks us to sleep.

We order thick "railroad style" French toast in the diner while viewing the distant Golden Gate Bridge.

A speeding glimpse of Silicon Valley, then Salinas Valley's vegetable fields give way to oak-covered Santa Lucia Mountains.

Palm- and eucalyptus-shaded San Luis Obispo Station — our first stop visiting friends and relatives.

Pacific Surfliner: Passing Oceano's sand dunes, Vandenburg's missile launching pads, offshore islands and oil rigs; we rumble along the curving coastline.

Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal's patio between trains: Spanish-tile fountains, flowers, and from nearby Olvera Street faint strains of live Mariachis.

The Southwest Chief rolls eastward as high desert drowses in the moonlight. Grand Canyon stop: Rental car to Monument Valley; south to Tucson.

The Sunset Limited rambles across sand, sagebrush and cactus. Next come thick piney woods and swampland.

Conductor: "Hold on while walking; we've hit rough track."

Lafayette, Louisiana: A vending machine promising "Louisiana Hospitality" sports a color photo of an alligator holding a Coke between its teeth.

Cajun relatives welcome us with chicken and sausage gumbo. At green, oak-shaded Avery Island there's the Tabasco plant, and Tabasco-flavored ice cream.

Crossing a river along the way.

The Sunset Limited crosses swamps, bayous and rivers with sea-going oil tankers anchored along refineries.

The food and service are excellent; desserts (such as Mud Pie) irresistible.

We soar 135 feet above the Mississippi on the 4.35 mile Huey P. Long Bridge before detraining in New Orleans.

The Crescent hurries across Lake Ponchartrain, through swamps and thickets, past wooden barns in picturesque decay.

Greenville, South Carolina: family visit with spring-like weather.

Approaching Washington, DC: The Capitol Building's white dome appears. We can walk there between trains, or shop the Union Station's huge mall.

To Pittsburgh aboard the Capitol Limited; Thanksgiving with relatives.

Leaving Pittsburgh: Nighttime luminescence from buildings and bridges color the Three Rivers.

Connecting in Chicago: Time to walk to the 110 story Willis Tower for a view from the top.

The Empire Builder: Few brown leaves cling to skeletons of trees; gray ponds reflect a gray sky.

Four am, North Dakota prairie: Freight trains growl past; the full moon illuminates a dusting of snow.

Breakfast: An ember-colored sun struggles; the train kicks up snow plumes.

Temperature inside: 73 degrees. Outside, nine.

Passengers enjoy wine and cheese tasting; the Empire Builder climbs the Rocky Mountains after dark.

Columbia River Gorge: Morning's first sunbeam guilds the train, snow-covered Mt. Hood looms across the river. Bare-rock desert suddenly changes to lush rainforest; scantily-clad trees still wear yellow and red foliage. Tracks bridge both Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

December 5th, Portland Union Station: Connecting to the southbound Coast Starlight, we're almost home.

Our car attendant presents chilled champagne. Sunshine and verdant fields in the Willamette Valley give the illusion of spring — but it's just above freezing outside.

The Coast Starlight scales the Cascades, then delivers us to Klamath Falls — after 7,400 enchanting miles on the rails.