Morning on the Empire Builder begins at 7 o’clock sharp when the conductor noisily announces we are about to arrive in “Whitefish, Montana”, and that the dining car is already open for breakfast. The sun is crimson and gold on the Montana hills and mountains. While neither did I sleep much last night, nor have I managed to acquire any coffee in the lounge car, I feel remarkably awake. As I write this, we are following a river canyon near the south border of Glacier National Park. The water runs deep, with a clear-green hue as we jump in and out of tunnels .
Since Spokane, the train is twice as large as the cars from the Portland have been combined with those from Seattle. The real benefit, however, is gaining the lounge car – which is a cafe underneath, and observation car above. With tables, the opportunity to purchase coffee, is is truly a civilized way to travel. Sitting with R and across the isle from the Trails and Rails volunteers, talking about experimental aircraft, and hiking, it is also quite a fun way to move across the land.
Climbing through Montana the train snakes along at a mere 40 miles per hour. Two engines now, rather than 3, are pulling the now full length of the Empire Builder up a grade of over 1%. On balance, the train is not that large, certainly not compared to freight or coal trains I’m accustomed to seeing in B.C. We are almost at the Continental Divide, where we reach a height of 5200 feet – making this the lowest crossing of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. north of New Mexico.
After crossing the divide the terrain immediately turns dry. Far less trees, shorter, brush, grass hills. Not so different from the interior of B.C. Overhead, dark clouds ominate.
Traveling down onto the high plains (land of the Blackfeet) the mountains fade into the distance behind us. This moment can’t help but make me a bit sad – growing up in B.C. I was led to falsely assume that mountain ranges are everywhere (B.C. has at least 4 I can name offhand – Coast, Purcells, Selkirks, Rockies), but in fact mountains are not so common. If there are any other mountains between here and Chicago, however, I will report them.