Destinations,  North America,  Travel Diary,  United States

3 days on the Southwest Chief | Day 2: Flagstaff, AZ to Raton, NM

Continuing adventures of overland travel from Los Angeles to Chicago via Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train!

Day 2: Flagstaff, AZ -> Raton, NM

My hopes of sleeping on a gently swaying train were, sadly, totally unrealistic.

Yes, the train swayed– but it wasn’t a gentle rolling motion like I’d been led to believe.

It was a jolting, fast, side-to-side motion that threatened to throw me out of my (VERY TINY) bed. I got used to it eventually, but I did NOT get used to the smaller-than-a-twin size bed; every time I turned over my knee kept banging into the hard plastic wall. Plus, the air conditioning kept turning off (or just didn’t work at all) and it was roasting in that tiny room.

My neighbors asked our attendant about the a/c later and he said that older cars tend to have malfunctioning a/c systems. My car looked to have been built in 1982, so…yay…

I finally gave up and “woke up” at 5:45 a.m.

Broken down

After blearily staring at the ceiling for a while, I realized we’d been stopped for longer than expected. Looking out the window, I could see we were stopped at a station and my phone’s GPS said we were in Flagstaff.

I watched the sun rise through my window and wondered what was going on. It was too early for any announcements, and the room attendant wasn’t up yet, so I didn’t have any way to get info.

The dining car opened around 7:00 a.m. and I went immediately to try and avoid the “rush.” (No reservations needed for this meal, just show up whenever.)

My dining buddy this time was a Canadian traveler who hadn’t done much research before booking a ticket; she didn’t know that meals were included, or that you could buy extra food from the cafe car, or that we’d have fresh air stops, etc. Horrors!

Admittedly I sometimes do TOO much research, but meeting someone who did none at all was shocking.

But she was a nice breakfast companion otherwise, and we ended up eating together a few more times on this trip.


Breakfast was: scrambled eggs with Swiss cheese, home fries, pork sausages, coffee. It tasted like a Denny’s breakfast basically; I had to put pepper on eggs and ketchup on home fries to get any flavor. The ends of the sausages were dry, like when you reheat them and don’t put enough water in the pan. Tasted okay though!

We finally asked the breakfast attendant what was going on with the train. Turned out the Observation car had a broken wheel, which meant it needed to be taken off…and we weren’t going to get a replacement.

Observation car woes

The observation car is a common lounge area where you can get great views of the landscape. It’s also a good way to meet people, especially those who aren’t in roomettes. Not having it on our run was a huge bummer.

At least my roomette had a fairly large window to look out of! And I had dining companions and my car neighbors to talk to.

Inside my roomette with the bed set up.

Because of the problem with the observation car, we were now running a few hours late. This isn’t atypical for long-distance train routes in America, so I recommend not booking any tight connections at the other end of the route.

Eventually we got on our way. We trundled into Gallup, NM and had a short fresh air break. A timely stop, as the conductor had just gotten on the PA to chastise someone who’d tried sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom.

Say no to smoking (onboard)

For those impatient smokers: the air in the cars is recycled and the smoke smell will get out into the rest of the train, no matter how sneaky you thought you’d been. That’s why you also shouldn’t spray heavy perfumes or other fragrant things, even in the bathroom, because it’ll go out into the rest of the car.

Now comes the main part of train travel: several hours of staring out the window.

I did try to read something on my Kindle, but turns out I get motion sickness…on this particular train anyway.

Luckily the views were beautiful!

And I had some nice conversations with my neighbors, who slept through breakfast but managed to get coffee from the communal pot at the end of our car.

Lunch! And dinner!

Lunch was: chili and baked potato, with cheese and sour cream. It didn’t look like I was expecting but it tasted fine. Got a chocolate torte for dessert and it was VERY filling, to the point where I couldn’t finish.

Another long fresh air stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my old hometown!

I ran out the train to get to the far side of the station where I got some (bad) pictures. I also dropped off a BookCrossing book, freeing up some space in my backpack that I desperately needed.

The actual station was super crowded and there wasn’t much to buy, food-wise. Apparently there’s a grocery store within walking distance but I wasn’t comfortable being so far away from the train (and my luggage).

I’ve also heard that people order food delivery to the station, timed to when their train pulls in. This would work well if the train was on time, but I don’t see how you could do it if you’re delayed. I barely got any signal on my phone while on the train (and there’s no free wifi) so I’m not certain this is an easy thing to do.

Dinner was: crab cake appetizer, salmon thing for entree, and cheesecake for dessert, which I took back to my room.

We had one more fresh air stop in Raton, New Mexico at 9:40pm. It was freezing cold! Still, some fresh air is better than none, so I hustled outside and ran around for a bit before getting back onto the train and tucked into bed.

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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