I crossed the United States by the Capitol Limited from Washington D.C. to Chicago and by the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco. I am a train anorak and I had the best time of my life and it was extremely hard to leave the trains behind.
The Capitol Limited took 18 hours overnight from Washington D.C to Chicago, Illinois.
The ticket costs 68 dollars one way in a reclining seat, though I spent the whole night sleeping in the observation car.
The Capitol Limited has a restaurant, an observation car and sleeper carriages, but they were all very cold because the attendant left the air-conditioner on all day and night which made it feel like we were travelling in a freezer.
The trip to Chicago was mainly through industrial parts of the U.S. (although at night I could hardly see anything), so the real adventure began when I changed trains in Chicago to take the California Zephyr to San Francisco.
The California Zephyr took 54 hours to finish the 2400 miles and we arrived only an hour late! That is some achievement compared to Hungarian trains that are almost always late and the longest distance a train takes in Hungary is about 300 miles.
The California Zephyr has a dining car, an observation car and sleeper carriages. I took the cheaper option and travelled on the economy class.
The ticket cost 126 dollars one way booked two weeks in advance of the trip. Dinner was never more than 15 dollars and always really tasty. I actually think I had some of the best meals in the dining car while I was in the U.S. during my six-month-long visit.
We left Chicago in the afternoon and rode through the prairie. Then came nightfall so I did not see much again, but I still loved to be in the huge carriages and the rattling of the train.
Next morning I was up early. It was wonderful to see the huge change in scenery and we soon arrived to Denver which looked like a great city.
After Denver came the most amazing part of the trip: Crossing the Rocky Mountains. I have never seen so many pine trees in my life before and those high mountains and the view from them was simply breathtaking.
The second day on the train was again totally different from everything I saw before. We arrived to Nevada and rode by the Colorado river and between those magnificent red rocks. By the afternoon came forest again after the desert and I spent most of my time in the observation car.
We arrived to Emeryville early evening and finished the last leg of the trip to San Francisco on a bus because of restoration works to the line.
Much more by this author on his very excellent website solaristraveller.com.