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Rocky Mountaineer, Colorado’s new luxury train, offers amazing views from Denver to Moab

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Stacked layers of creamy white, apricot, lime, and cocoa brown stone stretched like giant multi-colored caramel candies across the cliffs in front of me as we neared the state line dividing “Colorful” Colorado and “Life Elevated” Utah. . This vivid rocky plateau was just one of many diverse sights I took in while traveling aboard the new Rocky Mountaineer luxury passenger train last October.

A new train ride in Colorado? Yes! While our state benefits from a number of great and scenic historic train rides and rail journeys, this is the first dedicated two-day passenger train to link Denver to Moab. Not only is this a first for Colorado, it’s also a first for Rocky Mountaineer, the renowned Canadian luxury train company, which debuted this trip late last summer. The “Rockies to the Red Rocks” route includes an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs.

Large windows that curve upward...

Provided by Rocky Mountaineer

The large windows that curve into the roof of the train cars are the highlight of riding the Rocky Mountaineer through the Rocky Mountains and into the red rock desert. (Provided by Rocky Mountaineer)

Before heading out on my trip, I spent the night at one of my favorite boutique hotels in Denver, The Oxford Hotel, which is within walking distance of Union Station. As a history buff, the legendary property ticked a number of boxes for me. Founded in 1891, The Oxford recalls the golden age of railroad expansion in Denver, when the city served as the hub for Colorado’s network of mountain and plains mining operations. I met with other passengers for morning coffee near the fireplace in the lobby, where we admired the charm of the 19th century atmosphere.

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Since 1990, the Rocky Mountaineer Rail Line has offered train trips that explore some of the most beautiful places in Western Canada and the Canadian Rockies, including the Banff/Lake Louise/Jasper National Park areas. When the company began looking for a route in the United States, it discovered underused passenger rail lines linking Denver to Moab.

Although Amtrak and other commercial rail lines use a portion of the tracks, Rocky Mountaineer opened up more than 20 miles of underutilized track that winds through red rock canyons providing views never seen by a passenger train.

Our train car host regaled us with entertaining and educational stories of Colorado history and geology including some wild tales. I learned about the origins of the caramel-colored rock I admired. “The green rock layers you see were formed by peat bogs when the area was a tropical jungle millions of years ago,” our host shared. And I was surprised at the origins of the creamy white streaks: “The white rock was actually sand dunes.”

Thoughts of Colorado as a smoky tropical jungle took a while to sink in, and soon the train entered another realm of unimaginable beauty: Utah’s signature gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The cinematic experience was continuous. He was grateful for the oversized windows that allow passengers to view the moving-image show. Every once in a while, like prairie dogs emerging from their burrows, my fellow travelers and I jump up to take photos or run to the open-air windows between cars to breathe in the fresh air and marvel at the jaw-dropping views, from the peaks of the continental divide. to the red stone cliffs of Ruby Canyon.

Among the benefits for passengers who opt for SilverLeaf Plus service on the Rocky Mountaineer is access to the lounge car.  (Provided by Rocky Mountaineer)

Provided by Rocky Mountaineer

Among the benefits for passengers who opt for SilverLeaf Plus service on the Rocky Mountaineer is access to the lounge car. (Provided by Rocky Mountaineer)

Though I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my leather reclining seat, I walked over to the car showroom which features a nightclub vibe, complete with cocktail-style tables by the windows. It’s a great place to chat with friends, family, and fellow travelers over complimentary wine, beer, or cocktails and take in the ever-changing scenery. With my cell phone fully charged (thanks to the plugs near my seat, a nice touch), I was also ready to test my photography skills.

As we passed Gore Canyon, our host reminded us to look for wildlife. “The pronghorn is the second fastest animal on Earth; the first is the cheetah.” Heads turned as we peered through the wide windows to see three of the swift creatures racing across a wide valley. They proved too fast to capture on my cell phone camera. But later, I managed to get a picture of a bald eagle perched on the branches of Ponderosa by the Colorado River.

From Denver to Glenwood Springs, the train averaged 30 mph, allowing for ample opportunity to enjoy the luxuries of SilverLeaf service. Meals were served to our assigned seats. Locally sourced foods inspired by the region were creatively prepared and presented on white linen tablecloths set on roll-out trays.

Wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages were offered to passengers before the first course: a sautéed green salad with Manchego cheese, blueberries and walnuts. The California Chardonnay was a delicious choice to pair with my steamed Koho salmon on a bed of quinoa. Lemon bars and coffee with Baileys followed as we entered the Gore Range. Traversing Gore Canyon along the river (to the Class V rapids) was a thrill and a privilege, as there are no roads along this stretch.

Your ticket on the Rocky Mountaineer...

Provided by Rocky Mountaineer

Your ticket on the Rocky Mountaineer includes meals. Although the train doesn’t include a full kitchen, meals are carefully prepared and served to passengers at their seats (think first-class air travel). (Provided by Rocky Mountaineer)

Further on, the river calms down in what our host called “Río de la Luna”. Some boaters were visible on the water. “We call it that because some boaters like to greet passengers, with the back end in sight,” our host said. Although we didn’t get a “full moon greeting,” one passenger joked, “That’s what I call a dinner show!”

The train passed through the towering walls of Glenwood Canyon in the late afternoon. After checking in at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, I quickly walked across the street to the “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs Pool.” Any remaining worries melted away as she immersed herself in the hot water. The earliest known people to “jump into the waters” here were nomadic Utes seeking healing from a variety of ailments. It was the perfect way to cap off a day filled with wonder as dusk began to darken the sky and the ambient glow from the lamps lit up the pool.

It already felt like I had been away a week, we saw a lot. I was relaxed, energized and looking forward to the next leg of my journey. Having completed the Rocky Mountain portion of the trip, the morning marked the start of the Red Rocks portion. Greeted with coffee by the crew on our early morning departure, I was hungry, looking forward to the prickly pear pancakes.

The Rocky Mountaineer breaks through...

Provided by Rocky Mountaineer

The Rocky Mountaineer traverses Red Canyon on the route between Denver and Moab. It also goes through Gore Canyon, an area you can’t see when traveling by car. (Provided by Rocky Mountaineer)

The sun came out as we left Glenwood Springs, as if the curtains were being lifted to reveal another day of spectacularly cinematic train travel. The cameras were shooting nonstop. “I just can’t stop taking pictures,” said one passenger. An attendant passed by filling cups of coffee. “Beautiful, isn’t it? That’s what I like about this trip, you see something different every time”, he said smiling.

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