A pamphlet we picked up at the Texas Visitor Center in Wichita Falls mentioned a Santa Fe steam locomotive on display in Amarillo, and while we did not have time for any other rail-related tourism while here, we had enough time to go look at it in the park where it sits after we checked out of the hotel this morning.
This is AT&SF Locomotive 5000, a one-of-a-kind member of its class of 2-10-4 "Berkshire" locomotives. It is somewhat difficult to photograph due to being surrounded by chain-length fence to prevent vandalism.
It may be hard to appreciate just how large this locomotive is. Here's a detail of all five pairs of driving wheels, none of which are "blind" (unflanged) drivers.
As usual, there are more photos if you click through any of these to see more.
While we were looking at the historic steam locomotive, we also saw modern action within earshot. BNSF was switching cars in the former Santa Fe yard while a Union Pacific freight passed on the ex-Southern Pacific, ex-Rock Island tracks with a "rainbow" consist including locomotives from Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern.
Former Route 66 in Amarillo passes under the former Rock Island tracks on a bridge that retains its heritage, which is somewhat unusual on the Union Pacific, a railroad that tends to paint over everything with its own name whenever it acquires another road.
After our brief railfan detour in Amarillo, we set out on I-40 heading west.
Just before entering New Mexico we saw something I'd never seen before: an Exit 0 on an Interstate highway. Usually the first exit is numbered 1 even if it is at the very beginning of the road.
Moments later, this sign made it crystal clear that we weren't in Texas anymore. I set our clocks back one hour as we entered the Mountain Time Zone, which allowed us to catch back up with our original schedule, as we'd lost time in Amarillo.
Just over the border in New Mexico, Lisa (who did most of the driving today) decided to stop at Russell's Truck & Travel Center, whose billboards she had been seeing for miles. It includes this small, immaculately kept, free vehicle museum. It also includes a whole bunch of dill pickle Pringles, so I bought some more of them. Lisa warned me that we only have room for two more cans of them until the box in which she's storing them fills up.
East of Tucamcari (the point where the Southern Pacific and Rock Island lines once interchanged), we passed this long Union Pacific grain train going the other way.
I-40 gets somewhat more interesting in New Mexico, although it's hard to tell from this photograph as the road swoops down in to San Jon. I tried taking photos of some of the colorful mesas west of Albuquerque, but by then it was so late that photos taken from a van moving at 75 mph were too out of focus to be of any use.
Shortly after 3 PM (MT) we pulled into the Waffle House on Yale in Albuquerque for our final WH meal of the trip. We both went large, and I added chili to my hash browns. (My blood sugar paid for this later inasmuch as there's no time for exercise.) Leaving the Waffle House, we refueled the Astro and, after a brief stretch of rush-hour traffic on I-25/I-40, made good time to our destination in Grants.
Lisa has been wanting to visit the mining museum in Grants for a while now, but the last two times we passed through the city were both Sundays, the one day the place is closed. We calculated that if we stopped in Grants tonight, we could, if we got up early tomorrow, go over to the museum (which opens at 9 AM) and look through it for an hour or two and then head west. The weather forecast tomorrow through all of the places we are going is good, and while it will be a long day driving, we should be able to make it to Las Vegas (500 miles exactly, according to GMaps) tomorrow.
We were talking about this change in plans while packing out of the room in Amarillo. Lisa took the wheel so that while she drove west, I used the IHG mobile app to check availability. To my astonishment, I could book a room at Grants for a mere 5000 IHG points (it's typically more like 20K points for a Holiday Inn Express), so I used points and canceled our reservation at Gallup, saving $140.
Not only have we changed stops, we also are going to spend an extra night in Las Vegas.
Looking at the weekend weather ahead, there is a storm heading toward the Sierra Nevada that will make it impossible for me to drive the Rolling Stone down to the Bay Area on Sunday; however, the weather forecast east of the mountains along US-95 through Sunday afternoon is clear enough as of this morning that we should be able to get home to Fernley on Sunday if we stretch the trip out a day longer rather than rush to get home Saturday. I changed my work schedule so that I'll be at home next week, although I'll have to work two straight weeks in the Bay Area in January to make it balance. I hate that last part, but it does mean we have a chance to extend our Las Vegas vacation by a day.
The initial idea was to move the Las Vegas reservation (two nights at the IHG Palazzo, on an IHG credit card promotion that makes the over-the-top expensive room free) one day up, staying Friday-Saturday instead of Thursday-Friday; however, when I checked with IHG, I found that the Palazzo's reservations can't be changed. Any change would forfeit the promotional coupon entirely. So that killed that idea. However, our reservation at the Tonopah Station Hotel for Friday night could be changed without penalty, and I had enough points in my IHG account to buy a third night at the Palazzo, so we'll stay there three nights instead of two, heading north on Saturday morning and getting home on Sunday mid-day. The only inconvenience is that the Palazzo reservation is an end-to-end booking of two separate reservations. I think there's a considerable chance that we'll have to do something on Friday morning to reset our room keys, based on past experience at the Venetian hotel, the Palazzo's sister IHG property next door. I don't expect us to need to have to actually move from room to room, however; the reservations are identical room types.
We'll have to have a look at schedules, but this change may allow us to finally go ride the Nevada Southern Railway in Boulder City.
Meanwhile, back to our hotel tonight. The Holiday Inn Grants is pretty nice, and includes wired (not just wireless) internet connections that actually work (the wired connections at Amarillo last night and at the Sheraton Fort Worth did not work), so Lisa could check her messages on ActiveWorlds. Even though I'm staying on points (and at a huge bargain at that), they still upgraded us to a mini-suite, and one immediately opposite the indoor pool and spa. This led to what Lisa described as a red-letter day: the first time she's been able to go into a hot tub in eight years.
For some reason, Lisa's tinnitus abated for most of today, even while eating. She hasn't been able to swim because she obviously can't swim with the static-making plug in her ear and the radio on her hip. She decided that under the circumstances, she could risk it here. So we put on our swimsuits and went across the hall to the hot tub and soaked out the substantial stiffness of a long road trip. Lisa felt pretty good, but unfortunately, as we were leaving, the tone returned. She dashed across the hall to our room and grabbed the radio to get the white-noise masking going again. That last part wasn't pleasant, but she was still happy to be able to get into the hot tub again for the first time since the tinnitus started afflicting her shortly after Nippon 2007.
Now we need to get some rest because tomorrow is going to be the longest single day of the entire trip. It's a good thing we'll be in Vegas for three days, because I think the first day, we'll have to stay in bed and sleep late. But I doubt that it will be difficult to find somewhere serving breakfast all day in Las Vegas.