The six hours from Denver to Glenwood Springs passed in a flash, between our ooh-ing and aah-ing over the scenery and cheerful conversations with fellow passengers. A ride from Denver to Salt Lake City would have been no hardship; time passes by in a pleasant haze aboard the Zephyr. Even still, a stop overnight in Glenwood Springs, a gem of a resort community, provides visitors with a chance to further soak in the beauty of the Rockies.
Glenwood Springs, a town of about 10,000, is known for its natural hot springs, which in 1887 attracted Doc Holliday, who was suffering from tuberculosis. The dentist, gambler and occasional gunfighter eventually succumbed to his illness in Glenwood Springs, and visitors today can take a short hike up to a cemetery where he's thought to have been buried. (The cemetery was privately owned and, over the years, records of the actual burial site were lost.) It's not just for history buffs; visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of Glenwood Springs and the surrounding mountains.
That's just the start of the hiking possibilities. A few miles up the Colorado River is the trail to Hanging Lake, a turquoise body of water perched high in White River National Forest. For a less-than-three-mile round-trip trek, the elevation gain makes the hike strenuous. Take your time to adjust to the altitude, about 7,000 feet; it's worth it for a glimpse of Hanging Lake's preternatural waters. Before your trip, reserve a hiking permit, which can be accessed online or picked up at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center. Only 615 permits are issued to hikers per day.
After hiking, unwind at one of Glenwood Springs' hot springs. In need of some relaxation after our morning of train travel, Erica and I chose Iron Mountain Hot Springs, whose 16 geothermal soaking pools overlook the Colorado River. Families with children might prefer Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, with its water slides and splash pools. Whichever you choose, your trail-weary muscles will thank you for a few hours of restoration.
Still need relaxation? Glenwood Springs Brew Garden can assist as well. The indoor-outdoor space has more local flavor than touristy bars such as Doc Holliday's Saloon across the bridge. An hour or two before embarking on the next leg of our train trip, we had a few local beers and enjoyed music from a Celtic band performing on the patio.
And then it was time to reboard the Zephyr, now bound for Salt Lake City.
Onward we rode for nine more hours, watching the Rockies fade into desert. Stops were few, though we had the chance to pick up some peaches and postcards at the Grand Junction, Colo., station before crossing into Utah. We were once again lulled into happy complacency aboard the train, content to watch wide, largely uninhabited swaths of America roll on by and the sun slip over the horizon.
Even after darkness had enveloped the Zephyr, we had a long way to go until Salt Lake City. But at 11 p.m., when we stepped off the train, I felt a pang of regret. The Zephyr would continue on through Truckee, Calif., carving its way through the Sierra, all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area, and we wouldn't be there to see it.
But thinking about our new friend Bart, the octogenarian who has ridden the Zephyr nearly 100 times, provided some consolation: For those who fall in love with rail travel, there's always another ride.
IF YOU GO
A one-way ticket from Denver to Glenwood Springs on the California Zephyr begins at $46, and a one-way ticket from Glenwood Springs to Salt Lake City begins at $42. amtrak.com
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