Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Great Western Trip -- Part Three

Copper Basin; Kelvin, Ariz.; July 13, 2016
Note: In the first installment of our western trip we ventured from New Jersey through Kansas City and on to Crawford Hill in Nebraska. In the second installment we headed into South Dakota for a couple of railroads and then down to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming before heading to Sherman Hill near Cheyenne. We concluded camped out along the tracks of the Deseret Power Railroad near Dinosaur, Colo.

Day 9 of the trip found me awake at 6:15 a.m. in the middle of nowhere. Pre-trip intelligence said the Deseret Power Railroad would make its first trip from the coal mine near Dinosaur, Colo., to the power plant near Bonanza, Utah, sometime after 6:30 a.m. I drove the short distance from where I had parked for the night to the grade crossing and waited. The railroad operates Monday-Thursday, and usually a track inspection is made on Monday morning before the first train of the week runs. This was a Monday...

Around 7:30 a track inspection truck went past on the railroad. The friendly driver told me the train should be about an hour later. I could have gotten more sleep, but at least there was something coming. But 8:30 came and went, as did 9:30... Finally, at 10:30 there was a headlight and the chase was on as three E60 electric locomotives led a string of coal cars past me. The shot at the grade crossing was okay, but a better shot was to be found just south of the town of Blue Mountain (the highway sign says its a town; there is one house there) as the train crossed the highway on a high fill.
Deseret Power; Blue Mountain (Dinosaur), Colo.; July 11, 2013
The Deseret Power Railroad is isolated -- it has no railroad connection with the rest of the U.S. rail system. All it does is shuffle coal from the mine to the power plant. Passing through the town of Dinosaur, my next shot was where the railroad heads south before hitting Mormon Gap.
Deseret Power; Dinosaur, Colo.; July 11, 2016
The railroad is about 35 miles long, and the trains move right along at a decent pace. Unfortunately, the road and tracks separate after Mormon Gap, and you have to drive into Utah to the power plant to get ahead of the train again. Except... The road between Bonanza and the power plant has collapsed, and the detour is long and dusty. It is no longer possible to beat a train from Mormon Gap to the power plant, and if you went to the power plant to shoot the train leaving (it takes about two hours to unload), you would get one shot there and wouldn't be able to get anything else on the east end near Dinosaur. Thus, I let the train go and caught up on sone sleep for a couple of hours. About three hours after I saw the train receding west at Mormon Gap, it returned heading back towards Dinosaur.
Deseret Power; Dinosaur, Colo.; July 11, 2016
The normal operating pattern has the morning train getting back to the mine sometime around noon, where the crew will reload the train and a second crew will make a round trip starting at about 4:30. However, because of the late start in the morning, it was already closing in on 3:00 and there was no way the train would be loaded in time for 4:30. Figuring it would be a couple of hours no matter what, I stopped for a Brontosauras burger in Dinosaur (what did you expect?). I then headed towards the mine, where the entrance road gives a nice overview of the complex. It was now 4:30 and I could see the train was sitting under the loader, not moving. No second train today... It was time to move on, so I headed through the barren desert (I didn't pass a gas station for 168 miles) through Colorado and Utah, heading for New Mexico (including a spectacular drive into Moab). My next destination was near Farmington, N.M., and I pulled into the tourist information center in that town for the night.

The quarry for Day 10 was going to be the most elusive railroad on the trip, the Navajo Mine Railroad. Like the Deseret Power Railroad, it is an isolated operation that moves coal from the mine to the power plant. This railroad, however, is nowhere near as accessible at the Deseret Power. It is deep in the Navajo nation. There is only one public grade crossing on the railroad, and some views near the power plant. By early morning I was camped out at the public grade crossing. After some visits by mine security (which led to securing a photo release), I was soon rewarded with the shuttle train heading north from the mine to the power plant behind a heavily-modified E60 electric locomotive.
Navajo Mine; Ojo Amarillo, N.M.; July 12, 2016
The railroad operates with an E60 on one end of the train and an Alco C425 diesel on the other. The coal dust blowing off the train obscured a going-away shot of the Alco, so I decided to wait at the grade crossing (knowing it would be a couple of hours at least) to get the train's return. After waiting for awhile, a couple of railroad employees stopped by. I found out from them that the train was still about 90 minutes away. Hmmm... I decided to use that time to head up to the power plant to see what was going on.

As I arrived at the power plant, I saw the train had just finished loading and was moving out to head south. I got a shot of the C425 passing the power plant, just before I was visited by security. They made it plain that they'd prefer it if I moved on, and I had every shot you can possibly get on the railroad anyhow, so I headed on out.
Navajo Mine; Waterflow, N.M.; July 12, 2016
Wandering down into Arizona, I crossed the busy former Santa Fe Railway mainline at Holbrook. Not on my original itinerary was the Apache Railway that runs between Snowflake, Ariz., to interchange with Santa Fe successor BNSF Railway in Holbrook. With the loss of its biggest customer, a paper mill near Snowflake, Apache operations are infrequent and hard to plan for -- thus, the reason they weren't on my itinerary. But when I crossed the tracks in Holbrook and looked into the yard, there were Apache's nicely painted Alcos doing some interchange work. Alas, access points on the Apache are few and far between -- all the dirt roads intersecting the tracks are gated and marked private. I was able to get the train leaving Holbrook from a public grade crossing, however.
Apache Railway; Holbrook, Ariz.; July 12, 2016
After an unsuccessful chase almost all the way to Snowflake, I headed back into Holbrook, then turned towards Winslow. The Santa Fe had a string of Harvey Houses along it, restaurants and hotels run by Fred Harvey, and Winslow's Harvey House, La Posada, has been nicely restored. I pulled up a chair on the patio behind La Posada and watched trains as the sun set.
BNSF Railway; La Posada, Winslow, Ariz.; July 12, 2016
The Santa Fe closely follows old U.S. Highway 66 across Arizona, so as darkness fell I headed out to a Route 66 landmark outside Winslow, the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. I got a couple of trains passing the famous "Here It Is" sign before heading back into Winslow and a real motel for the night.
BNSF Railway; Jack Rabbit, Joseph City, Ariz.; July 12, 2016
On Day 11 the target was the Copper Basin Railway near Hayden, Ariz. The Copper Basin supports a large copper smelter near Hayden, bringing ore cars from a mine near Ray. Unlike the Deseret Power and Navajo Mine Railroads, though, the Copper Basin is connected to the outside rail world. I arrived just after noon and a quick check at the office at Hayden Junction told me a train had just left for the mine. I quickly overtook the train, chased it to the mine and back to the unloader at Hayden, fighting bad sun angles most of the way. However, there would be a second train on this day, a train that delivers sulphuric acid to the mine. This train ran in much better light, and I caught it as it wound its way down from the smelter.
Copper Basin; Hayden, Ariz.; July 13, 2016
This would prove to be a pretty decent chase, and I knew the roads pretty well from chasing the train earlier in the afternoon. The scenery in the area is punctuated by saguaro cactuses (cactii?) and I was able to get the train passing through valleys filled with them.
Copper Basin; Hayden Junction, Ariz.; July 13, 2016
Chasing along, I caught the train a few more times, including at Kelvin (top photo in this entry). Once the train reached the mine I knew it would be a few hours before it would be back and it would be after dark. I set up at a small bridge near Ray Junction and waited for the train to come back. Incidentally, the mine at Ray would mark the westernmost point on the trip. After the night shot, I found a nice spot to park outside Hayden and watched the fire from the smelter occasionally light up the entire valley.
Copper Basin; Ray Junction, Ariz.; July 13, 2016
Day 12 found the trip continuing south. After letting the rush hour traffic die down a bit, I ventured into Tucson to shoot the new light rail line there. After following the entire line by car, I decided to start my shooting on the University of Arizona campus. The university bookstore on Park Avenue made a nice backdrop.
Sun Link; 2nd & Park, Tucson, Ariz.; July 14, 2016
The Sun Link system opened in July 2014 and runs almost four miles, using cars built by United Streetcar in Oregon. Looking the other way at the same spot on Park Avenue, there is a sign with a warning for bicyclists.
Sun Link; 2nd & Park, Tucson, Ariz.; July 14, 2016
A parking garage on 2nd Street where it crosses North Mountain Avenue provided a nice elevated view of one of the line's modern streetcars.
Sun Link; 2nd & Mountain, Tucson, Ariz.; July 14, 2016
Sun Link; Congress Street, Tucson, Ariz.

Finally, I followed the line downtown, past the old Southern Pacific station and out Congress Street. The place where the streetcar line dives under Interstate 10 would mark the southernmost point on my trip (after hitting the westernmost point the previous day on the Copper Basin).

It was only early afternoon, but I wanted to get to Albuquerque, N.M., that night to be in position to get commuter trains there in the morning. A pleasant surprise was finding an In-N-Out Burger location just east of Tucson. The highway followed the former Southern Pacific "Sunset Route" for much of the way, but the line was largely quiet; the couple of trains I did see I couldn't get off the interstate in time to get down to the tracks and catch. I finally arrived in suburban Albuquerque well after dark and found a Denny's parking lot to catch a bit of sleep before the next morning's commuter rush, now 5,788 miles into the trip since leaving New Jersey.

No comments:

About Me

Newton, New Jersey, United States

Thanks For Visiting