Monday, July 10, 2006

Back Home

We got back a couple hours ago to excited dogs, haughty cats, a torpid snake and a toad who is still frightened of everyone. The trip lasted just long enough. We were beginning to get tired of riding the train.

Most of what happened was typical vacation stuff - dead boring to anyone who wasn't there. We did notice something very interesting in the fifteen plus years since we took the Empire Builder . There are a lot more waterfowl. There were ospreys, geese and herons galore on the Columbia River Gorge. There were no ospreys the last time we made the trip. Plenty of geese, ducks and even pelicans in Montana and North Dakota. What in the world are pelicans doing in North Dakota? There were swans several places. I don't remember the last time I saw flocks of wild swans.

What's responsible for this? Who knows? Maybe we just picked the right time of year, although it isn't the season for anything to migrate. Perhaps there was more water than usual. Maybe the years have undone the effects of DDT and some of the other pesticides that were destroying waterbird eggs. In any case they added beauty to the trip and further convinced us that rail is a better way to travel. If we'd taken the plane we would have seen clouds, circular fields, mountains, square fields and the airport. We got to see the Northern Prairies all green on the way out and brown on the ride home, spectacular mountains and a chance to see the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park.

The Empire Builder is one of Amtrak's best lines, one of the few that survived the budget cuts more-or-less intact. It was on time both ways over a two day trip. The train was comfortable, and the service staff were unfailingly professional. Our cabin attendant said that it's a mark of distinction to be assigned to that line.

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