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California Zephyr Project: Truckee to Sacramento, January 2019

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I’m headed to Chicago on my first long-distance round-trip train journey of the year on Sunday. How about a little warmup to Sacramento first?

Not caught up on my 2019 photography project about the California Zephyr? Check it out here.

The stretch of the California Zephyr between Truckee and Sacramento is one of my most favorite scenic areas in my region. This area of the Sierras is characterized by massive granite formations mixed in with volcanic features, endless mountain views (you can see Lassen on a clear day!), and beautiful rivers cutting through all of it. Not to mention the history. We all know the story of the Donner Party from grade school; the tracks run over their footprints and the pass named after them.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is one of the smaller trips I’ll be doing quite a bit this year.

The weather wasn’t great but it did make for some interesting photography. We all love bright blue sunny days, but the hard sun isn’t my personal favorite for photos. There were plenty of clouds covering the sky, and we eventually entered those clouds approaching Donner Pass on the return home, with plenty of snow. In fact, we had to wait just outside of Gold Run for a snow plow engine to clear the way over the pass for us.

I walked down to the snack car to get a hot dog and a beer. As the attendant ran my debit card he gave me one of those looks, the kind you might get if your card is declined. He remained silent and gave me the receipt for signature. Then he showed me his nametag – John Pellettiere. What are the odds?! I’ll be seeing more of him on future trips, I’m sure.

One of the things that I’ve overheard on every trip – the few that I’ve taken so far – are people saying, “wow, I need to do this more.” The fellow sitting in front of me was talking on the phone and said the same thing. “This train is pretty cool. I need to do more of it.” You’re not alone, sir.

The Sacramento Valley Station is pretty cool. It was built in 1926 in a classic Renaissance Revival style and contains a mural that depicts the groundbreaking of the Central Pacific Railroad at that spot in 1863. One door leads to an industrial-feeling rail platform, while the other door opens to downtown Sacramento. Great hotels and restaurants aren’t too far away.

As for the photography – a few things I’ve noted:

  • Fast lenses are great for inside the train, and keeping a fast shutter speed while maintaining low ISO. I’m loving my Fuji 16mm f/1.4 for this.
  • I wanted my camera up against the window all the time while passing through suburban & urban areas – there is so much going on there!
  • Speaking of the window…I’ve gotta hurry up and make my glare shield for taking photos out the window without getting reflections, and without needing a polarizer.
  • A fast shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec is needed when moving fast and subjects are so close out the window. This of course requires a high ISO of 6400 or so, and just leaving it in AUTO ISO works best while setting a fast shutter speed.
  • Focusing – even in manual focus – can be difficult out the window with everything moving so fast and at large apertures. Focusing on something down the length of the train, guessing the distance of my subject, and then moving back outside seemed to help.
sacramento valley station
Passengers wait inside the Sacramento Valley Station, which serves thousands of passengers every day. The station was built in 1926 at the western terminus where the Central Pacific Railroad was begun in 1863.
train station
Sacramento Valley Station has a decently-sized platform with views of downtown Sacramento. Descending into the tunnel under the tracks transports your from an industrial rail yard and into manicured gardens as you approach the old station building. Leaving the doors of the station transports you to downtown Sacramento.
train platform
A Capitol Corridor train making a quick stop at Sacramento Valley Station. The train makes 15 daily trips between San Jose and Sacramento.
Sacramento view
Looking down the Capital City Freeway towards downtown Sacramento from a rail overpass. New housing creeps up to the highway as Sutter’s Landing Regional Park on the other side attempts to maintain green space in the growing city.
farm
Farms but up right to the rail lines between Roseville and Sacramento.
homeless camp
The overpasses and service roads near McClellan Park are home to numerous homeless camps – camps that you would never notice if you weren’t on the train.
colfax
Colfax is named after Vice President Schuyler Colfax, who made a visit here in 1865 to check on the progress of the Central Pacific Railroad as construction progressed eastward towards Promontory, Utah. The town was previously known as Illinoistown.
sugar bowl gondola
Sugar Bowl’s Village Gondola passing under high-tension power lines and over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks carrying the California Zephyr.
train deboarding
A girl peers out from behind the conductor as the California Zephyr pulls into Truckee.