On the weekend of April 6, I took my first trip of the year and also the first major trip where I traveled by train.
I boarded Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Fullerton station on Friday night, bound for Albuquerque, New Mexico. I picked this destination because it was a fun little trip that was adventurous and cheaper than most other destinations I had in mind.
As a long distance Amtrak train, I reserved a roomette in a sleeping car that included two seats that fold out into a bed at night, reading lights, a coat hook among other amenities. The train ticket I paid for also meant that I can dine in the dining car as the meals are included in the price of the ticket.
Due to limited seating capacity, all passengers in the dining car are seated with complete strangers. For dinner, I was seated in a table with a lady who was riding the train with her two grandchildren. She had picked up her grandchildren in Pasadena, boarded from Los Angeles Union Station and were headed to Gallup, New Mexico to drive up to Colorado afterwards where they live. They were all very sweet and it was a welcoming experience to be in this setting, especially with people I don’t know.
During the night, I slept through much of the time the train passed through Arizona, a state which I also have never been to before. I only caught some brief glimpses in the middle of the night as the train made stops at Kingman and Williams Junction.
Upon waking up, it was 8:30 a.m. Mountain Time and I headed over to the dining car for breakfast. As I sat in a table in the dining car waiting for my breakfast, the train made its first stop in the state of New Mexico at Gallup. From there on out for the next three hours or so, I saw long stretches of deserts before we arrived in Albuquerque.
I came to Albuquerque to do two things: ride the New Mexico Rail Runner Express (NMRX) commuter rail line and visit the ABQ Biopark. In the limited time I had for this trip, those would be the only plans I had in mind while in the city.
After settling in in the hotel I stayed at for a few hours after I got off, I walked back to the same station to board the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. As a fan of trains, I really anticipated this moment, almost becoming the centerpiece of my trip. The NMRX’s name and livery is based off of the Road Runner cartoon character with the door chimes to warn passengers of closing doors resembling that of the “meep-meep” sound that the character makes before running away from Wile. E. Coyote.
I took the train headed north for Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. The trip lasted a little more than two hours and along the way, the train zipped through long stretches of deserts and remote areas at noticeably high speeds. Some station stops appeared to be in areas with very little development but certainly unique and interesting in their own ways.
The first leg of my trip ended in Santa Fe, where most buildings and shops I saw around the station seemed more modern than original. I would have checked out the city more but due to the schedule, I only had about 10 minutes between the time the train arrived and when it was ready to turn back for its southbound run.
On Sunday, I still had plenty of time to burn before I flew back so I decided to visit the ABQ Biopark, a place that consists of a zoo, an aquarium and botanical gardens. I rode on an old-fashioned railroad line that runs within the park, shuttling passengers between the zoo and the aquarium. I saw various animals that are dominant in Asia and Africa such as elephants, gorillas, birds, zebras among others. The aquarium there is considerably smaller than other aquariums I have been to and included the usual fares of sharks, stingrays, fishes and other sea creatures.
The only place I was able to eat at during my stay was the Flying Star Cafe in New Mexico for both dinner on Saturday night and a late lunch on Sunday. As Sunday was Easter, many other restaurants in the area were closed due to the holiday or because it does not open on Sundays. What I learned from a waitress that served me on Saturday night was that in New Mexico, people there are really into chili — the red and green types. Since I wasn’t sure which one to get, she suggested I try the Christmas chili — a combination of red and green chili, both on the side. Both were served warm and I preferred the red chili as it was spicier.
This is the shortest trip that I have ever taken but one that I very much enjoyed. I have always wanted to take a long-distance Amtrak line that travels to other states and I successfully made it happen with my trip to Albuquerque. This trip now paves the way for potential train trips to other destinations in the future. Chicago, Houston and Portland are just some of the places I have in mind for the future.