Monday, May 24, 2010

Thrilling Train Trips Around the World Part 2

12. Thrilling Train Trips: The Southwest Chief

Wending its way through craggy red rocks, sagebrush-dotted desert and narrow canyons, the Southwest Chief tours much of what we think of as the Old West. The daily Amtrak train operates between Los Angeles and Chicago, rumbling through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri en route. Along the way it passes mountains, ranches and old missions, and crosses the Rio Grande, the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. The Southwest Chief connects with the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona, offering the perfect chance to see the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on a side trip.

13. Thrilling Train Trips: Durango and Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad

Though this railroad primarily serves tourists these days, it has a proud history: It has been in continuous operation since 1882, when it got its start transporting passengers and freight, especially gold and silver, from the San Juan Mountains. Vintage steam-powered engines still power the train between Durango and Silverton in southwest Colorado, a 45-mile trip each way that winds through high-altitude canyons along the Animas River. The “narrow gauge” refers to the distance between the rails: They’re only 3 feet apart, rather than the more common 56.5 inches.

14. Thrilling Train Trips: Flåm Railway

What the 12.4-mile Flåm Railway lacks in distance, it makes up in breathtaking landscape. In the space of an hour, the train climbs more than 2,800 feet from Flåm, near the base of Norway’s Aurlandfjord, up the steep sides of the fjord on a grade of more than 5 percent. When the train isn’t twisting and turning through spiraling mountain tunnels, check out the tumbling waterfalls along the route, plus the historical farmsteads clinging to the fjord’s slopes.

15. Thrilling Train Trips: White Pass & Yukon Route

This historic route owes its existence to the Klondike Gold Rush, when the then-new railroad was one of the preferred ways for prospectors to reach the inland gold fields. As they did in bygone years, passengers today typically arrive by ship at Skagway (on an inlet in the Alaska panhandle), then take the train across a sliver of British Columbia before it terminates in Canada’s Yukon. Even today, the 67.5-mile railway is isolated in this sparsely populated area, but the landscapes are rugged and dramatic, with numerous wooden viaducts scaling the craggy slopes.

16. Thrilling Train Trips: Cuzco to Machu Picchu

If you’re traveling from Cuzco to Machu Picchu in Peru, you can hike in on foot, like the Incas did — or you can ride in by train with PeruRail. The company offers three-hour railway options to fit all budgets, including the no-frills Backpacker train, the panoramic-windowed Vistadome and the posh Hiram Bingham. The trains all follow the scenic Urubamba River, winding through lush, green forest. Due to flooding at Machu Picchu, the distance between there and Ollantaytambo is currently served by buses, but rail service is scheduled to resume in June.

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