One of the main fears that old people have is losing their driving options. Most of us are addicted to cars. We have been driving the 450 miles from our home in Albuquerque to see our grandchildren in Tucson for years; but, since I turned 79, I am rethinking my driving before someone else rethinks it for me. Our sons watch us…
We were making the trip over two days, with a nice stop and a visit to the hot springs spa at Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences, NM; however, now we need to think a bit further out. My no-driving future may be closer than I think. Time to experiment with a few alternatives.
Last week, we drove to El Paso; a straight 270 mile shot on I-25. We took the Amtrak from El Paso to Tucson. Cost $50 each, each way. The train was 3 hours late out of El Paso, but except for the usual stress that old people feel about sitting around in a train station, not a problem. Coming back we got into El Paso 45 minutes early, which meant that we could drive back to Albuquerque before dark. Since it was Saturday afternoon, there was not much traffic on the freeway. Dark and large trucks worry old people.
Our son met us in Tucson and the next morning we rented a car from Enterprise, who picked us up. Thus we had a car in Tucson. We turned it in on Friday at 5 and got a ride to the train station the next morning. You can save a bit of money if you go through Costco Travel.
The coach train seats were great; much better than coach airline seats.
The food was questionable. Take a look at the train menu. Next time, a picnic lunch.
Boarding was a snap. We lined up, the conductor scanned our e-tickets and gave us a paper slip with our seat numbers. We had to climb a narrow stair-case to the upper level, but, you can’t have everything when you are old. No elevator.
The train, including the bathrooms, was clean.
The observation car was comfortable with tables; and, many people with laptops, cell phones and card games.
There were electrical outlets, but no wi-fi on the Southwestern Trains. Since I am addicted to my blog, I use a personal hotspot from T-mobile; (I pay $5 extra a month for extra gigabytes and T-mobile works all over the world.)
Note that cell phone reception is not the best between Lordsburg NM and Tuson, but…
The train was not crowded; about 20 % full.
You share tables in the dining car. We were seated with an interestig man from the Phillipines who was seeing the world. He started out working on Costa Cruise Ships, heard about truck driving in the US, and came here. He is an American Citizen and drives refrigerated trucks across the US. He was going to New Orleans to pick up his car, then to Chicago to start a new truck driving job in the Northeastern part of the US. He has no overhead and plans to return to the Phillipines after Australia and New Zealand
He is also working on a blog, but has not yet published it.
In El Paso, we parked in a secure garage for $10 per day. It was about 2 blocks from the train station and a block from the bus station. It is manned 24 hours a day.
The El Paso train station is an imposing old building; but not marked in any way. So we drove around it a few times and ended up back on the freeway before someone pointed it out. Downtown El Paso is confusing. Next time we will recognize the train station. Experience works, even in old age.
The train station is large, not used much: one passenger train a day in each direction. It has vending machines, one of which takes your money and does not vend; but, there is a warning sign. All the usual junk food. Nothing healthy. Cookies, candies and chips. No restaurants close by.
Three unplanned hours of waiting.
The net result: when we really can’t drive we can take the train, even though it will mean a bus ride from Albuquerque to El Paso, which can be arranged through Amtrak. You have to walk from one station to the other.
Since there are no longer any non-stop flights from Albuquerque to Tucson, we are considering flying through Las Vegas.
Another option that I will have to try alone, since my wife is not interested, is the bus to Tucson. It is reasonable, goes through Phoenix and leaves and arrives at decent hours, albeit 12 hours apart.
The lesson learned is that I have several relatively safe options to get to Tucson; all of which I will try before I have to use them. Even at my age I can figure out what to do now that I have done it.
We can adapt to our age.
You should check out alternate means of travel.
THINK OLD! TRAVEL MORE!
The Wheels Museum at the Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque is a must for railroad buffs and for anyone who wants to remember back to a simpler, younger age.
The volunteers who staff the museum are knowledgeable and helpful. They like what they are doing.
If you like model trains, there are several large layouts including one from the Clovis Model railroad club. There are a number of cars, trucks and various pieces of train equipment
I liked the horse drawn milk wagon as it reminded me of my childhood in Kansas where the milk was delivered to a box at your back door and the horse knew all the stops.
The museum is located in an old railroad storage building and is next to what used to be the only roundhouse between St. Louis and California and where they repaired engines. The old roundhouse is still in existence, empty, huge and now used for movie sets and for a weekly market. Rumor has it that it may be sold to CNM and used for film courses.
Next to the long abandoned train buildings are the tracks where there is a daily Amtrak train in each direction and numerous freight trains.
You can catch the RailRunner to Santa Fe or to Belen 7 days a week. It is free for seniors on Wednesday, but parking downtown is a pain. Better to park at the Montaño station and catch the train there.
If you like the Wheels Museum, you should also visit the 17 year restoration of Santa Fe Steam Locomotive # 2926 by the New Mexico Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society. You can visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1833 8th NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or, check them out on-line at nmslrhs.org.
New Mexico is a fascinating place for train buffs, and if you are here during the State Fair, there is a great model train exhibit, put on by the Rio Grande Valley HO Model Railroad. In 2019, it is from September 5 – 15.
On Sundays from 9-3, May 4 – Nov. 2, you can visit the Rail Yards Market near downtown Albuquerque, NM. The site is next to the tracks and is in a huge old Santa Fe Railway repair shop. The market has over one hundred vendors and artists. It draws thousands of people. Outside there is plenty of free parking and a line of food trucks.
Inside, which is free, you find artists, bakeries, local produce, music and crowds. Turn down your hearing aid.
Rail buffs, and most other people, especially those of us who can remember riding the train to college, will be fascinated by the interior of the Santa Fe Railway Repair Shop, now abandoned, waiting a new life, and used as the setting for a number of movies.
To learn more about the rail yards visit the City of Albuquerque web page.
Maybe you are looking for a second career in your retirement. Central New Mexico Community College in conjunction with the Street Food Institute offers a course in “Street Food.” Maybe you should apply. Visit Craigs List to find food trucks for sale.
The bottom line is that for a few hours on Sunday morning, you can’t go wrong, and you will see a part of American History. Drive through the surrounding streets and see “new town,” which came into being with the arrival of the rail road over a hundred years ago. Then compare it to “Old Town.”
On February 1, 2019, while on a Viking Cruise, we took a train ride on a prison train that was built by Argentine prisoners in the early 20th Century.
A prison for hard-core and political prisoners was established in Ushuaia, Argentina in 1896 and the prisoners built their own prison.
They needed a train to haul wood from the nearby forests, so they laid the tracks and built a railway to haul wood and prisoners. Today, the train only hauls tourists and has expanded to about a half-dozen small trains running on narrow-gage tracks.
The trains are duplicates of the original prison trains and there is a shop at the station to repair and build them.
Each car has about 6 compartments with six seats facing each other in each compartment. It is a tight fit and you are warned about sticking your hands, or other body parts, out the windows.
The engines are steam engines, modified to run on diesel fuel instead of firewood to reduce the danger of a fire. There are water towers to add water to the steam boilers.
You can find out about the train and buy tickets at: Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino
The train station is about 20 minutes outside Ushuaia so you will need to be on a tour or take a taxi.
Following the train ride through beautiful country, with fields of horses, you take a bus to Terro del Fuego National Park, with its lake and hiking trails.
The trip is fascinating and the prison was closed in 1947 due to corruption and horrible prison conditions.
In Albuquerque, NM I visited the 2926 Restoration Project. The New Mexico Steam locomotive and Railroad Historical Society is restoring a steam engine that hit the tracks on May 17, 1944. It travelled 1,090,539 miles. It is being completely restored by volunteers and will be put back into service for excursions soon, we hope.
You can visit the restoration project on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1833 8th NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of the members will give you a tour and explain what the restoration.
It is close to Old Town and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Try Cafe Azul for the best huevos rancheros with Hatch green chile – get the papitas, not the hash browns. BUT: the hot Hatch green chile may take you way out of your comfort zone. Remember you can always have it on the side.
In September there is always the model railroad exhibit at the state Fair. If you like New Mexico trains, ride the Amtrak, the Railrunner, and the Cumbres and Toltec narrow gage. At Christmas, take the Cumbres and Toltec through the snow.
You can see a video showing the history and restoration of 2926 on You Tube.
On March 15, 2017, while on a Road Scholar trip, thirty of us traveled by train along the Panama Canal from Colon, Panama to Panama City, Panama.
We had traversed the Panama Canal by small ship, spent the night in Colon and toured the city the next morning.
At 5:15 PM the train left from an old loading platform in Colon. We had seats in the dome car and rode along the canal for an hour and fifteen minutes to Panama City. The train runs once a day in each direction.
Our tour director lined us up to board at 5:00 and he had staked out the dome car for our group; sharing the dome with another tour.
Seniors get a break in the fare if they are Panama Citizens or Permanent Residents. Other wise it is full fare: $25. But the extra $7.50 is probably worth it; and, I am sure that our Road Scholar had worked some sort of deal.
The history of the Panama Canal Railway is fascinating as it predates the canal, was used during the California Gold Rush, and, in 1852, when it opened, was the only transcontinental railway. It was also immensely profitable, as the Panama Canal is today.
Don’t plan on taking a boat trip through the canal and catching the train the same day. It won’t work. There are too many variables in getting through the locks and to the train station. You don’t want to be stuck in Colon without a hotel reservation.
If you need transportation and are not on a tour, remember that Uber works in Panama and is reasonable.
Panama Canal Railway – Wikipedia
Road Scholar: Grit and Glory: Exposing the Panama Canal