Red Rocks to Rockies – Riding the rails in luxury
by Graham McKenzie
It’s not often that you get to tick off not one, not two, but three bucket list items in one trip.
That is exactly what happened to me last year when I travelled from Moab in the heart of Utah to Denver, via Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Visiting the country on the back of a special exemption from the US Government, I arrived in the middle of the Utah desert at Canyonlands Airport and then had a 20-minute drive to downtown Moab which has a very chilled, almost hippyish vibe.
I liked it but unfortunately had no time to delve into it other than walk up and down the main drag for 15 minutes. What was about to come was my first tick off the list. A trip on a luxury train with meals, drinks, and views. I was about to board the Rocky Mountaineer on their newest service – Rockies to the Red Rocks.
The fact that I was doing it the other way around was irrelevant as the excitement grew. On board I get into my seat and am immediately asked “what would you like to drink”? “Gin and tonic please” I reply as the train departs. Happy days as my iced cocktail turned up with some warm roasted nuts, the menu for the evening meal, a few details of our route and what to expect at our overnight stop. Back goes the leather reclining chair, on come the shades and I’m heading for chill out city. Surely this wasn’t the first time I had done this. I was born for it!
The first couple of hours coming out of Moab you cover arid desert, sandstone escarpment and the edge of Arches National Park. Fantastic landscape but also relaxing. Relaxing enough to sneak off to the lounge car and replenish a drink or two, chat with fellow travellers and start to appreciate what all the fuss is about of luxury train travel.
Next up was dinner. There is no doubt that there is something very sophisticated about travelling through some of the most picturesque landscapes known to man whilst enjoying a first-class meal, and beverages coupled with first-class service. What’s not to like?
The next bucket list item was about to be fulfilled as we pulled into Glenwood Springs, the overnight stop, situated midway between Aspen and Vail, Colorado. Your luggage is magically transported to your accommodation and with luck you will be staying in the historic Hotel Colorado, sometimes referred to as the Western White House due to the number of Presidents that frequently visited.
Wherever you stay all you need to do is check in and then you are free to explore. My itinerary was already set with a trip to Iron Mountain Springs and my first ever plunge into a naturally heated spring pool. I was met at the station by an acquaintance who had told me to pack my swimming gear. Within fifteen minutes I was soaking in water around the 98f mark on a crisp mountain night under clear starry skies with a glass of wine and zen like state.
At Iron Mountain they have a choice of 17 pools with a range of temperatures up to 108f. Not being a person who wants to get into really hot water I chose the coolest of the options. This facility comes on my ‘highly recommended’ list, with prices starting at around $32 for a couple of hours but make sure you pre-book your time slot which is essential. As the name would suggest Glenwood Springs is famed for its range of geothermal hot springs and, coupled with other world class spa amenities, is ideal for a wellness break.
After a good night’s sleep its back onto the train for breakfast. A wide choice is available and once again the service and quality were excellent but this time my meal was interrupted as I jumped out of my seat with camera off to one of the observation windows to tick off that third bucket list item. The train manager alerted us to the fact that on the left-hand side of the train the driver had spotted a female black bear with a cub and sure enough there she was by the river with her offspring. I could not have been more delighted. The pictures were poor, but I had seen them, and my bucket had one less item in it.
The remainder of the trip takes you through truly breath-taking topography as the train follows the Colorado River all the way to the mile high city of Denver. The clear blue skies, the wildlife, the history, the food, the genial hospitality, and the constantly changing scenery all lead to a fantastic memory making experience.
“Trains are wonderful…. To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches, and rivers, in fact, to see life.” Agatha Christie.