Sunday, March 28, 2010

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

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