Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Late Winter's Adventure - Day 6 - UP Sunset Route

Poised to strike head out early in the morning for first light we were optimistic at the prospects. The weather was calling for strong winds for most of the day - they werent kidding! As we moved closer to the Salton Sea from Indio, the winds were getting stronger and stronger - winds sustained 40 with gusts to 50 with temperatures in the low 40s made it almost unbearable. Our first shot was to be outside Mecca of an eastbound auto train. During the set-up, Mikes camera acted more like a kite - flipping back onto its back on the ground breaking his newly acquired 1.4 extender. An additional shock to the camera caused it to partially function, glad we were close to the end of the trip.

We ventured down to the south end of the Salton Sea - the winds were whipping up white caps on the Sea. Our attempts to access some areas off road east of Niland proved to be next to impossible due to the mud and water from the rain from a few days previous. While driving around Niland we ventured into Slab City, a very eerie site to behold - a site void of any running water or electicity in most of the "sites". We were relieved to drive out of Slab City and head back to the mainline.

Hazy light from the dust and wind caused for some interesting shots for the morning. Traffic on the line was loaded for the morning, but there was a period of time there was maintenance scheduled on the line which would impact our train count.

Auto train east at Mecca

Three lights at the double siding at Niland

Mike and his slightly damaged camera - managed to get it working again

As the afternoon wore on the winds died down along the Sea, but so did our train traffic - only a few more were along as maintenance set up for the afternoon.

Eastbound at Wister

Calculating how much light we had left, we chose to head towards Beaumont Hill to try to catch some traffic out of West Colton. The vengeance of the winds came back as we neared West Palm Springs, but completely dissipated as we crossed over into the Basin.

Last train shot along the Sea

DAY 7 - Travel Day to Home

Day 7 was out travel day from Corona, CA to San Diego. After a great outside breakfast at Swami's Cafe in Encinitas, we took a couple of last shots along the Sunset Route, showed Mike and Steve around - checked out the KSAN approach from Albatross Street, Balboa Park and lunch at Fillipis in Little Italy. Overall with the exception of the rain and wind it was a memorable trip - as they are always. A multi day photo trip is good, and it becomes a great one when you are with good friends that have similar photographys styles. Thanks Steve and Mike. We were able to meet up with Mike (NScaleMike) from Vegas, and Darren Megowan from Bakersfield - we will look foward to meeting up with them again in the future. Total train count shot for the trip; 71 - many of them multiple times in different spots - total seen was probably in the 150 area. Thanks for experiencing out trip by looking at the stories.

Last shot of the trip from Del Mar

A Late Winter's Adventure - Day 5 - BNSF Transcon and UP Sunset Route

The sunrise on Day 5 found us heading eastbound on I-40 - the rain from the previous day was long gone, but fog of all things hang low over the lands east of Ludlow. We decided to work east to the Cadiz area before moving over to the land of the UP. Arriving at Ludlow with a few trains coming at us, we drove up on top of the small hill to the north of the mainline. Light was working for eastbounds this early so this would be our plan for a couple of hours. The only thing that could be heard over the slight breeze was the dull drone of the trucks and cars on the adjacent highway - one of the few places where this is an issue in the Mojave.

Ludlow, CA is the location where eastbound trains dropping off of the grade from Lavic start the climb to Squaw summit at Ash Hill. A set up reverse curves across the alluvial fans and Bajada to maintain gradient. Its in this area west of Ludlow, the old alignment laid down by the SP can be found with its cast rock and brick bridge abutments. Ludlow remains but a short stop on the travel east on I-40 for motorists, and the jumping off point for Route 66.

The Cady Mountains provides a sunrise backdrop from Ludlow - This range stretches from Ludlow to the southern edge of the UP at Afton Canyon

BNSF 7256 East is in charge of S-LHTPTR at Ludlow - The Bullion Mountians are in the background

Todays H-BARTUL (Barstow, CA - Tulsa, OK) is close behind the PTR train.

Timing is everything - A Ludlow meet between Q-CHILAC (Chicago, IL - Los Angeles, CA) and a S-LHACLO (Los Angeles Harbor - Clovis, NM)

The previous year, we were shown the top of Bolo Hill by Kit Courtier. This shot looks downgrade into Saltus and Amboy and then upgrade to Bagdad and the approach into Siberia - a distance of 25 miles in a viewfinder. According to the radio, there was a Form B in place for maintenance around Saltus - We knew that we would have a couple of trains backing up rolling into Amboy, setting up a shot with at least one train that could be seen in the shot. Access to this part of Bolo Hill is made by off-roading from Route 66 a couple of miles down to the tracks and a couple of more miles on dirt paths. During the travels, I would use the Garmin Nuvi as a waypoint marker to find locations again on my next visit. At Bolo Hill, I marked 3 locations for future reference.

In this series we are looking down towards Saltus and Amboy, a train can be seen charging upgrade while in the distance another heads downhill toward us.

The Bristol Mountains serve as a dramatic backdrop with its forests of Creosote Bush leading up to it.

On a line dominated by containers and trailers, a manifest would be the last train we would see on the Transcon

After a hour and a half drive through 29 Palms we arrived in Palm Springs and the former SP Sunset Route. Now UP Yellow, this is still big time railroading. Over the past few years, UP as been double tracking the Sunset Route but the area where we planned to focus on was still single track. Dont be fooled - this is high iron railroading with trains being fleeted across the subdivision back to double track at Yuma. This section lies along the Salton Sea, in the Imperial Valley part of South Central California. Beyond Indio, the area where the mainline drops below sea level to an eventual point nearly 200 feet below sea level. This area can best be described as odd. Simply drive around the small settlements in Niland, Bombay Beach and North Beach and see the flora and fauna both two and four legged. In the land of unbearable heat, this time of year, people flock from all over North America to enjoy more reasonable winter temperatures.


Rain from the previous night had made the usual hardpan a soupy slick mess, so when driving or walking off road we had to tip-toe to keep our footing. As we headed down Highway 111 we encountered an I-LBMN (Long Beach, CA - Marion, AR). Track speed is 70, but the highway is limited to 55 and 65 so it takes some time to catch up, overtake and setup for a shot. There was a train with some problems at Ferrum, so that allowed us to move forward to set up for a shot. A shop crew brought out a set of jumper cables in attempt to restart a dead DPU.

After the problem was resolved, our catch was the I train over the classic SP bridge over Salt Creek.

The one advantage of railfanning in this area is that you have the ability to see for many miles in each direction. A train in the siding at Rogoza allowed us to set up for a slow roll for the I train coming in from Bertram.

Going inside for 1 at Rogoza

K-G3LB (Global 3 Chicago - Long Beach, CA) charging west out of Rogoza

A Tucson - West Colton manifest (M-TCWC) has a 90Mac leader at Wister

The TickWick at Bertram

Eastbound pulling out of Bertram

There are only a few places where a shot can be taken with the train and the Salton Sea in the same frame. This point high above the siding at Mortmar (North Beach) the reverse curve allows for this combination to happen.

WB Manifest pulling into Mortmar - WB Auto train can be seen approaching

Mortmar Meet
A the light was ready to drop behind the Santa Rosa Mountains the westbound manifest rolls on - its train and crew only a few more hours from the terminal at West Colton.

West into the Sunset along the Sunset

A Late Winter's Adventure - Day 4 - BNSF Transcon

Refreshed from the previous evenings Kingman thunderstorm, we awoke in the morning with a plan - A plan to work east on the Seligman subdivison to the area of Crozier Canyon. We had planned to return to Barstow that night so we didnt want to venture too far east to make for a long drive back west. After checking in for the daily line-ups we were out at first light to set up for the classic shot at Walapai, where the main climbs on a fifteen mile tangent ramp up from the floor of the valley.

We had hoped to recreate the classic shot of a train approaching with another headlight in the distance, but in the instance, we werent too successful with the second train appearing just after the first one passed.

BNSF 7328 East leads the M-BARBEL (Barstow, CA - Belen, NM) at Walapai

S-LHTCLO (Los Angeles Harbor - Clovis, NM) charges upgrade with BNSF 5153 East

Route 66 - "The Mother Road" parallels the Transcon for many locations in the desert southwest, and this area is no exception. Peppered with faux - Burma Shave signs pitching driving safety and the occasional roadside attraction is commonplace on this stretch of roadway. A quick pull-off of Route 66 west of Hackberry led to a good advantage point of the dip and swale of the former Santa Fe.

A hot H-KCKBAR-9 (Kansas City - Barstow, CA) manifest hustles to try to stay ahead of a fleet of Z trains

Z-LACWSP (Los Angeles, CA - Willow Springs, IL) crosses Truxton Wash on a iconic Santa Fe bridge at Hackberry

A set of rocks with an elevated view at the west end of Crozier Canyon is our next location where we have a good view of the Truxton Wash, which the main follows the drainage most of the way from Hackberry up to the top of the grade at Yampai. Crozier Canyon at just a few miles long is probably one of the most difficult to access due to private property issues as well as just physical road access. There are times of year that travel in the canyon is just not recommended. It has been said that if a railfan could spend a week in the canyon, there would be very few duplicated shots. Given how much rain had fallen over the past few days, we decided to make the west end of the Canyon as our location to set up. The canyon would have to wait for another time.

The last time we were at the Canyon, we witnessed the impressive updrafts which would result in a severe thunderstorm that opened up right over us. This year, only rain greeted us.

Z-KCKSBD (Kansas City - San Bernardino, CA) rolls out of Crozier Canyon

Kingman Canyon is located just southwest of the City of Kingman, the main transitions between the newer part of Kingman to the old part of town through Slaughterhouse Canyon. A line separation comes back together albeit briefly in old town before dropping down into Kingman Canyon. This defile allows access to the Sacramento Valley and Wash which the railroad uses to make it down to the crossing of the Colorado River at Topock. The canyon is just a few miles long, but has a significant grade separation. Also laid in the canyon is a surface road called the Old Trails road as well as Route 66. A little off-road driving and rock climbing led to some great locations. Hiding behind a rockface to stay out of the wind and rain, we were able to see two trains in the matter of about an hour.

Z-WSPSBD (Willow Springs, IL - San Bernardino, CA) has dynamics in check as it heads downgrade through Kingman Canyon

A 186 car monster H-BARGAL (Barstow, Ca - Galesburg, IL) crawls upgrade through Kingman Canyon

Our goal for the afternoon was to try and get out from under the rain and try to capture some storm light. After a quick drive we were back on the Needles sub, working our way west towards Bolo Hill. The rain didnt let up as we had hoped, it only increased and looked like it was going to stay the course for the afternoon. This didnt deter our tenacity. We moved up to Saltus on the west side of Bolo Hill and set up for what would prove to be an interesting couple of hours.

We managed to leapfrog train Z-WSPSBD that we saw in Kingman Canyon and catch it again here at Saltus during a rain squall - and going away with the Cadiz local approaching.

The Cadiz local provides same day out and back service from Barstow, CA to the interchange with the Arizona and California at Cadiz, CA. Out of any train on the Needles sub, this train is usually the one with the most unique power, usually stabled by a large set of 4-axle power. On this day, the local slowed to work the tank car spur at Saltus with a blue and yellow Santa Fe GP60 for lead power. I wondered what the conductor was thinking about these guys with cameras in the pouring rain in the middle of the Mojave.

Dressed for the winter elements in the Mojave, the brakeman and the conductor go about their duties in a land that usually sports triple digit temperatures for most of the year. After the work was completed, the local notches out up Bolo Hill - maybe a little for our benefit.

Last light found us at Newberry Springs watching the distant building of a thunderstorm over Barstow while we waited for the first of the westbound fleet that we first shot at Crozier Canyon to arrive. The storm light photos we were hoping for never materialized, but some decent going away and low light prevailed.

Rolling into the storm at Sunset

Yet another day closes on the Mojave - the next day would be spent partially on the Needles sub, and then a switch over to the former SP.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Late Winter's Adventure - Day 3 - Needles Sub

Barstow arguably is one of the best staging spots for a railfan adventure - striking distance to the Big 3 (Tehachapi, Cajon and Needles sub) and some of the lesser busy areas (Afton and Cima). In years past we would call Barstow home for several days in a row - working out onto the Needles sub. This year we would leapfrog from Barstow to Kingman before returning back to Barstow over a 3 day period.

The focus of this day would be the Needles Sub - For me, the Needles sub is as heavy duty and fast running as it gets - its BNSF's national life line of commerce. If the Powder River Basin is the gold of the crown, the transcon has to be the shiny beset jewels. 60-80 trains ply the line every 24 hours. Stretching 172 miles from Barstow to Needles, one not familiar with this area may think the desert is a flat desolate area. Desolate in some places, sure, but flat - no way. The mainline crests several grades during its stretch. Summits such as Pisgah, Lavic, Squaw Summit, Bolo Hill and Goffs create opeational challenges. Very few trains fail to make it across the subdivision in the allotted hours. Some Z-train crews are on the long pool - San Bernardino or Bakersfield through to or from Needles.

The summit at Lavic was to be our first stop for first light. Eastbound trains climb out of the dry lake bed at Hector through Pisgah where the first crest is made before heading down through a quick dip before climbing to the next summit at Lavic. From there its downgrade to Ludlow.

Lavic Curve at Sunrise

Z-RICWSP (Richmond, CA - Willow Springs, IL) coming out of dip into Lavic.

Q-LACCHI (Los Angeles, CA - Chicago, IL) starts downgrade towards Ludlow - Pisgah lava crater distant.

Creosote bush is punctuated with pumice and volcanic rock in the area - the nearby lava fields and Pisgah crater reminds the violent creations of the area.

Bolo Hill was our next area to check out. Previously Kit Courtier showed us how to get into the Bolo Hill area which is an excellent shooting location for east and westbounds. With my handy Garmin Nuvi, I marked the spots as waypoints Bolo 1, 2 and 3 for future quick shooting references. Having been on the Needles sub over a dozen times in the past 10 years, I am always finding new and unique photo locations. Many of them off are of Route 66 - requiring a little patience and luck.

Z-NYCLAC (New York City - Los Angeles, CA) making 70 per on Bolo Hill

Z-WSPNBY (Willow Spring, IL - North Bay, CA) at Bolo Hill - Cadiz distant.

Warbonnet led Q-STOALT (Stockton, CA - Alliance, TX) at Bolo Hill with Amboy crater distant.

Alphabetic towns laid out going east its an easy way to remember station locations; Amboy, Bolo, Cadiz, Danby, Essex, Goffs, Homer, Ibis, Java, Kleinfelter, Lava....East from Amboy is the grade to Bolo, then dropping back down to Cadiz before the long pull out of the Bristol Dry Lake bed to the crest at Goffs. From Essex to Goffs is a favorite spot to pace trains along old Route 66.

Q-ATGLAC (Atlanta, GA - Los Angeles, CA) cresting Goffs hill.

Along the base of the Dead Mountains is the Piute Valley - this is where the rail line picks up the drainage of the Piute Wash to find its way down to Needles. The area around Java has been an attraction as of late of us - with the sun in mostly favorable angles for the morning through evening. Ibis can be a great location for fading evening light as well.

M-BELBAR (Belen, NM - Barstow, CA)Climbing out of the Piute Valley

M-SLABAR (Slayton, TX - Barstow, CA) at Java

Z-KCKLAC (Kansas City - Los Angeles, CA) at Java


Pulling hard into Ibis

Meet at Ibis

As the evening descended upon us, we decided to move east for our hotel in Kingman, enjoying a desert thunderstorm that night while sitting outside having dinner. Truly a great trip so far....