For the last week I’ve been on a railfan vacation in New Mexico and Arizona. I landed in Albuquerque and drove west with my friends to visit places along the Transcon, visit the Apache Railway, visit the Copper Basin Railway, visit the Escalante & Western, and somewhat unintentionally visit the Arizona and Eastern. Here’s some of the vital statistics from the trip:
- 453 DSLR photos
- 32 iPhone photos
- 1801 miles driven
- A few scratches on the skin
- 24.2 MPG in a 2013 Escape
- 2 liability releases
- 2200 flight miles
- a few new friends
These stats don’t necessarily convey the complete experience we had on this trip so over time I will share some of my images along with my thoughts about what I saw.
On the first day we made a quick trip into Belen then proceeded west to Dalies and on to Rio Puerco where we captured an eastbound stack train just as the sun began to set. Despite the appearance, this train is descending a long grade from the continental divide nearly 100 miles to the west near Gonzales, NM. The location is 2178 feet less than the 7227 foot crest. The elevations in this part of New Mexico and Arizona are amazing!
On day 2 of the adventure we drove into Arizona to visit the all Alco Apache Railway. The entire time we were on site I tried to recall the last time I saw or heard an Alco in operation. I’m thinking my last Alco experience was in the late 1980’s on BC Rail. 25 years without seeing an Alco? I think I was overdue.
The operations folks at Apache requested we sign releases and participate in a briefing on the off limits areas around the yard. They requested we not cross the tracks except at public crossings. With the layout of the Apache these requests were easily met by our group. They also shared with us their plan for the day which made our chase easy and predictable. I have to say I was impressed with their reasonable hospitality towards railfans. I was pleased they would take so much time out of their day to make our day better. Thank you Apache Railway!
We gathered a few photos around the yard office as the crew prepared the power for the day. We then moved up the line to near Snowflake Jct. where they would pick up cars off the siding. I chose to use a wide angle on my photograph there in hopes of capturing a bit of the turbo lag induced smoke. The engineer really didn’t get into them until they were out of my camera range so I only captured a light haze this time.
Later in the day, with cars from the BNSF interchange in Holbrook in tow, we received a wonderful smoke show as the train rounded a curve near MP 5. The engineer helped us out by backing off the throttle for a few seconds then opening it up again. The result was a wonderful Alco “black cloud”!
After we returned home Trains Magazine released a story on the Apache’s future. According to Trains they will continue despite the closure of the power plant and the mill. They will continue serving the Pig farm and moving cars in and out of storage. That’s good news for a railroad which has been operating as an independent entity since 1918.
Our next stop on the fall adventure was the Copper Basin Railway at Hayden, Arizona. This railroad lives to serve ASARCO‘s Ray copper mine and the associated smelter in Hayden. For all intents and purposes the railroad is nothing more than a conveyor belt between the two operations. The ore train makes round trips on a regular schedule between the mine and the dumper. The first trip usually starts at the shops at Hayden ant 7:30am. The number of cars in the train and the number of round trips for the day are dictated by ASARCO’s demand for ore and can change during the day if something goes awry on ASARCO’s end.
We made our first stop in Hayden at the CBRY office. There we signed releases and were given a tour of the operation including the offices and the shop. If you are planning to photograph the CBRY it is well worth the effort to stop in and sign the release. The people at CBRY are wonderful and they were more than happy to talk railroading with us. They welcomed us to their operation and truly respected our interest in the railroading industry. They kindly shared with us their operating plan for the day which made setting up for photographs easy to plan. Heck, they ever offered us information about how to get to some photo locations! This would be a good time to remind anyone considering a visit to be respectful so that CBRY continues to be friendly towards railfans.
The general manager acted as tour guide and took us into the yard where the ore train crew was air testing their train. We were allowed to wander around the train and get some early morning photos including the image below.
With the first trip of the day primarily facing west, away from the sun, we chose to hang around the shop. We were permitted to walk around and take photographs to our delight. The shop can rebuild the ore cars and perform most all necessary locomotive maintenance. While it is a modest facility, it seemed to be well equipped with just what the CBRY needs.
After an hour around the shop we headed out for our day of photographing the train along the line. With trains running back and forth regularly there are all sorts of opportunities for interesting photographs in the desert scrub and cactus. Even though the line is not much more than 20 miles long we found no shortage of images to capture and found it would take us a couple of days to really get all the photos we’d like. If you have any interest in unique operations like this I recommend a visit to the Copper Basin.
After a few days enjoying the Apache and Copper Basin we headed back to BNSF’s transcon to enjoy the steady stream of trains. If you have any interest in trains you must see the spectacle that is the transcon. Each time I find myself trackside there I am amazed at how BNSF operates this line. Trains move fast, they are frequent and I feel a sense of urgency in everything that happens there. Delays are not acceptable and everyone must do their job to perfection to keep a long string of trains on the move. If one train should falter it is moved aside and dealt with off the mainline. I find it an interesting study on how railroading can reinvent itself to meet a differing set of demands. Just spend 2 hours trackside and you’ll see what I mean.
This trip we focused quite a bit on the area between Double A and Seligman with a heavy focus on the hill east of Seligman. It seems we have rarely ever stopped on the hill but this time we found several locations in the few miles between Seligman and Crookton which appealed to us. In the end we spent one evening and one early morning there capturing some great light on the trains and a bit of nice light on one of the passing showers.
Since we stayed in Flagstaff an early morning visit to the crossovers at Darling was required. Surprisingly we actually watched a train be run around by a number of eastbounds. Rarely can a train sit so long on one main before opposing traffic appears which is why many sidings exist on the transcon. This train probably sat on main 1 for about 40 minutes before following a string of Z trains east. No more than 20 minutes after it crossed over and headed east a flurry of westbounds showed up to use the space it occupied.
Never a dull moment on the transcon.
Our last day on the transcon dawned with a few clouds in the air. We decided to head west again towards Seligman since the satellite image looked more promising there. We photographed our fill of morning eastbounds climbing up to Crookton from Seligman. After a move up to Crookton the weather began to deteriorate. In fact not long after we shot this westbound Q CHISTO clouds obscured the sun and we encountered occasional rain showers for most of the remainder of the day. You can even see the line of showers entering the photo below.
I have to laugh a bit that the first rain I’ve felt since mid-July fell not in Vancouver but in the middle of the desert! Even funnier is when it started to rain I immediately headed for the car to keep from getting wet. It was like I didn’t know what rain felt like. Nearly 80 days without rain has put me out of practice.
We drove out to Eagle Nest for a a couple of trains but honestly the beautiful curves there just didn’t shine so well in the overcast. As always it is impressive to see westbounds dropping off the mountains to the east but considering the long drive on very rough road it just wasn’t worth it. I was however excited when we headed east to Flagstaff and the Lumberyard. Since the weather was nice we sat outside and watched several trains roll through downtown Flagstaff while enjoying a darn good meal. I chose the Tri-Tip sandwich but ate it more like straight up Tri-Tip. Excellent.
Our goal was West Winslow around sunset. We arrived just after sunset and just in advance of 3 eastbounds. The sky ended up as a perfect backdrop for the trains. Sure we didn’t get the traditional long telephoto image looking back towards Flagstaff but I’m still happy to have visited such an iconic location.