Many passengers were on the train for only the first six hours, and they missed some stunning views.
Riding into California was a treat, but the train didn't go all the way to San Francisco.
The businesses I encountered seemed to be leaning into the romance and nostalgia of train travel.
On my way out of Denver, in the city's historic Union Station, I saw a lot of souvenirs and gifts for sale that emphasized how retro and romantic traveling by train could be.
From mugs bearing the slogan "Travel by Train" to a poster showing off both the modern and the old sides of Union Station, the rail-travel nostalgia was everywhere.
The first leg of the ride from Denver to Glenwood Springs was surprisingly popular.
Even though I was taking the full 35-hour trip, I shouldn't have assumed everyone else was.
The train was surprisingly crowded when we left Denver. But I soon realized a large number of people — particularly families and couples — were traveling to Glenwood Springs, a six-hour ride away.
The town, a beautiful hamlet in the Rocky Mountains, is home to the largest mineral-hot-springs pool, caverns, a ski resort, rafting opportunities, and hiking trails.
Amtrak even offers a special package tour that includes a round-trip ride, lodging, and a shuttle to a central hotel.
Riding through the Rocky Mountains was an anticipated highlight, but starting in the Great Plains made it even cooler.
I was excited to travel by train through the Rocky Mountains, but the ride was even more scenic than I anticipated.
From initially rising above the Great Plains on our way out of Denver to going through alpine areas where I caught glimpses of distant peaks and seemingly endless forests, the views were relentless.
Later on, we passed picturesque ranches and meadows on our way past the ski town of Fraser.
After Glenwood Springs, the train suddenly got a lot emptier.
I was a little worried upon boarding that I'd have to sleep upright because it was crowded, but because so many people emptied out after Glenwood Springs, I was able to lie down across the seat next to me.
But everyone who left missed out on the beautiful scenery, which continued unabated as the train followed the Colorado River through Grand Junction and on to Utah.
We were treated to see an incredible desert sunset.
The portion of the ride through Nevada and California is totally underrated.
I knew that the main draw of the trip was the segment through the Rocky Mountains, but after an overnight journey through Utah and part of Nevada, I woke to beautiful desert scenery.
Later that day, I was able to appreciate the Sierra Nevada mountain range as we passed through Reno and into California.
I'm originally from California, so riding past my home state's high mountain landscapes, including Donner Pass and Donner Lake, was a real treat.
If I hadn't found a discounted ticket, it would've been much cheaper and easier for me to fly.
My ticket cost $74 (thanks to a 50%-off sale from Amtrak), but I was still traveling in coach and had to sleep in my seat.
If there wasn't a sale, flying would've been a cheaper and more convenient option.
For many people, taking Amtrak long distance is a luxury, not an economical way to travel. Long train travel is more about the experience than the end destination.
Many of my fellow travelers had more expensive sleeping-car reservations and were taking the trip as a way to appreciate the views.
Amtrak has a rewards program for frequent travelers, and it's a surprisingly easy way to save money.
Some of the people I met while traveling said they used Amtrak points to score discounts on their sleeping-car reservations.
Online, I was able to see that I could earn two points for every $1 spent on Amtrak reservations through the Amtrak Guest Rewards program.
I wish I'd known that before I bought my tickets, but I'll definitely take advantage of it in the future.
The train doesn't go all the way to San Francisco.
While I was aware beforehand, it always surprises me that Amtrak doesn't have a direct rail connection to San Francisco. I think it's probably because of the unique geography of the Bay Area.
Instead, the train stops in Emeryville, across San Francisco Bay and directly adjacent to Oakland.
But Amtrak bus connections can take travelers the rest of the way to San Francisco.
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