This tour is no longer being offered. A variety of other spectacular train tours and vacations are available.
A great new fall colors tour of the vast Range and Basin Country of Nevada, eastern California and Utah. As always, unique train journeys are a tour focus. You enjoy a private steam charter on the legendary Virginia and Truckee Railroad through the silver mines of the Comstock Lode and ride the steam-powered “Ghost Train of Old Ely” on the Nevada Northern Railroad. You also enjoy trips on the steam-powered Heber Valley Railroad and Utah’s new TRAX light rail and Front Runner commuter trains. Other rail highlights include the exceptional Nevada State Railroad Museum, the Ogden Depot Center, and a Farewell Dinner at Salt Lake City’s Rio Grande Café, housed in the former Rio Grande Railroad terminal.
You explore autumn scenery from Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Range. The Range and Basin Country is one of the most remarkable landscapes in the world, as the region is a trap basin for rain. The rivers of Nevada’s interior do not reach the sea; indeed they vanish into the vast emptiness before even reaching the Great Salt Lake. Yet the area is one of amazing contrasts. At the higher elevations, aspen and cottonwoods turn flaming yellow and gold and great forests of pine coat the summits, while in the valleys you cross some of the driest land on the continent.
As you drive U.S. 50, “America’s Loneliest Highway” from Reno to Ely, you alternately cross vast open deserts and climb soaring mountain summits. In succession, the highway traverses the Desatoya, Shoshone, Toyabe, Toquima, and White Pine Mountain Ranges. On the frequent passes, you reach elevations from 6,000 to 7,600 feet; and the summit views appear to sweep to infinity. Along this route you visit the ghost towns of Austin and Eureka each of which, at the height of the mining era, had up to 10,000 residents. Today each is home to only a few hundred people.
In contrast you see the dinner show at your Reno hotel, the Eldorado; enjoy a Basque shepherd’s banquet; sail Lake Tahoe; and attend the Sunday morning concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. You also visit Donner Lake, explore the National Museum of the Automobile (Harrah’s car collection) in Reno, see the fine Nevada State Museum, and visit the “This is the Place” memorial in Utah, where Brigham Young first showed the Mormon pioneers the Salt Lake Valley. Please join this scenic, historic and unique tour. Complete details follow. All aboard!
- All rail, coach, light-rail and boat fares
- All hotels
- Full-time tour manager services
- Luggage handling
- Transfers beginning with your departure from Reno to your arrival in Salt Lake City
- Meals and admissions noted in the itinerary
Day 1 - Arrive in Reno
Independent arrivals into Reno today. You have a three-night stay at the luxurious Eldorado Hotel and Casino in the heart of the city. The hotel is only two blocks from the Reno Amtrak Station, served by the Chicago-Denver-Salt Lake City-San Francisco California Zephyr Superliner. This is an incomparably scenic route! Reno also is home to a major jet airport with flights from all major gateways.
Day 2 - See Donner Lake; cruise Lake Tahoe; National Museum of the Automobile; Welcome Dinner/Show
A full breakfast is included each morning at your hotels on this tour. This morning you drive to Truckee, California to visit Donner Lake. This beautiful lake, at the foot of towering Donner Pass, was the location of the tragic Donner Party disaster in the winter of 1846/47. Trapped here by early snows, half the members of the Donner wagon train starved to death. Yet the spot offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the Sierras. You continue to Nevada’s Zephyr Cove, on the shores of exquisite Lake Tahoe, for a two-and- a-half-hour lunch cruise on the “Tahoe Queen” sternwheeler. Set at an elevation of 6,229 feet, Lake Tahoe’s emerald green waters are lined by peaks soaring to 11,000 feet.
In the afternoon you return to Reno and visit the National Museum of the Automobile, which houses the Harrah family’s exceptional car collection. Over 200 vehicles are showcased, many in re-created street scenes from the early 20th century. Your welcome dinner this evening is the dinner show at the Eldorado, where the acts are always family friendly. While the 2009 schedule is not yet set, past shows have included Holidays on Ice and the traveling Cirque du Soleil. (B,L,D)
Day 3 - Nevada State Railroad Museum; Nevada State Museum; Virginia City; steam charter on Virginia and Truckee RR.
This morning you drive south to Carson City, Nevada’s state capital. You stop to explore the Nevada State Railroad Museum, with its exceptional collection of original standard and narrow gauge engines, a “doodlebug” rail car, and equipment from the silver rush era. You also visit the fine Nevada State Museum, a comprehensive exhibit of the state’s natural and human heritage. Your entertaining lunch is at Red’s Old 395 Grill, a barbecue “joint” on old US Highway 395. The centerpiece of the dining room is a huge preserved steam tractor!
In the afternoon you ascend to Virginia City, center of the fabulous “Comstock Lode” silver rush. Mark Twain began his career as a writer here working as a reporter for the “Territorial Enterprise” newspaper. The town has been extensively restored, and its Victorian shops and homes climb the hills. You have free time to shop and explore before your very special train journey.
The Virginia and Truckee Railroad (V&T) was the lifeline of the silver stampede, connecting Reno to Carson City and Virginia City. The V&T kept its original steam engines longer than most lines—ironically because, after the Silver Panic of 1893, it was too broke to purchase modern locomotives. The line was discovered by Hollywood and has featured in many pioneer western movies. The trackage from Carson City to Virginia City was abandoned in 1938, but is now undergoing an amazing revival. By 2009, over six miles of the rugged line will be restored. This afternoon we’ve chartered the steam engine of the new Virginia and Truckee Railroad to take you over as much of the line as safely can be operated. Weather and safety permitting, a photo run-by enroute will be offered. Passengers can detrain, and the train will run past them for great photos! You celebrate the trip this evening with a unique Nevada tradition, a Basque shepherd’s banquet at Louis’ Basque Corner in Reno. (B,L,D)
Day 4 - Drive scenic US 50, “America’s Loneliest Highway”, across the Range and Basin Country to Austin, Eureka and Ely.
A remarkable day’s drive takes you over the endless mountains and valleys of the Range and Basin Country. In the morning you stop for a view of historic Austin, a quasi-ghost town and former Pony Express station once home to 10,000 people but now housing barely 400. Leaving Austin, you climb 7484-foot Austin Summit and 7267-foot Scott Summit as you crest the Toyabe Range. You continue east across the roller-coaster profile of desert valleys and high summits to Eureka, where you stop for lunch. At its peak after the Civil War, Eureka was home to over 11,000 residents and the now-restored Eureka Opera House. Only 650 people remain, but the streets are lined with historic buildings. You visit the Eureka Sentinel Museum, which houses the original 1870 printing equipment of the “Sentinel News”, as well as exhibits on the mining era and the abandoned Eureka and Palisade RR. Finally you continue to Ely, overnighting at the historic 1923 Hotel Nevada and Casino. Dinner is included this evening at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Day 5 - Ride the “Ghost Train of Old Ely” on the Nevada Northern RR; see Bonneville Salt Flats; Great Salt Lake.
The rich copper mines at Ely were served by the Nevada Northern Railroad (NN) from 1905 to 1983. When Kennecott Copper finally closed the mines, it donated the railway near Ely to the people of the area. Remarkably, the donation included all the railway’s equipment, including its original steam engines and passenger cars, plus the depot and shops complex at East Ely. Scenic trips are operated on this true “Ghost Train of Old Ely”, which you ride this afternoon.
You begin with a behind the scenes tour of the NN yards and shops complex at East Ely. Along with the 49 original buildings preserved here, you see steam and diesel engines being serviced and restored. The historical value of this complex is truly unique, as this may be the best preserved early 20th century standard gauge steam railway terminal still in existence in the United States. This afternoon you ride behind an original Nevada Northern steam engine (probably 2-8-2 “Mikado” Number 93) on a rugged climb round-trip to Keystone. On the steep grades of the NN, the “stack talk” from the 93 should be exceptional!
You drive north this afternoon to Wells, then east into Utah. Here the Humboldt River, which has flowed over 300 miles east from the Sierras, simply evaporates into the vast Bonneville Salt Flats. This staggeringly dry region takes you to the shores of the Great Salt Lake, which you follow to Salt Lake City. Your hotel for the next three nights is the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, located directly on Temple Square. (B, boxed L)
Day 6 - Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert; “This is the Place” monument; ride the steam-powered Heber Valley RR and TRAX Light Rail line.
You cross the street to the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle to enjoy the 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning CBS Radio Concert of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. After the performance you drive up into the rugged Wasatch Mountains, stopping at the “This is the Place” monument, where Brigham Young first showed the Mormon pioneers the fertile Salt Lake Valley. You pause in Heber City to pick up picnic lunches, then drive into Provo Canyon to Vivian Park, where you board the “Heber Creeper” steam train of the Heber Valley Railroad. This line uses the former Provo-Heber City branch of the Rio Grande Railroad and offers a very scenic run up the canyon and along the shores of Deer Creek Lake in the shadow of towering Mount Timpanagos. Later you ride the new electric TRAX Light Rail Line from the village of Sandy directly to your hotel. (B, picnic lunch)
Day 7 - Free time in Salt Lake City; ride the Front Runner Express; tour Ogden Depot Museum; Farewell Dinner.
Enjoy an unstructured morning in Salt Lake City. The Mormon Tabernacle and Temple Square are directly across from your hotel; and the Beehive House (home of Brigham Young) is only two blocks way. The Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile (ZCMI) Center/Department Store is just across the Square. The grounds of Temple Square are beautifully landscaped with lush floral plantings.
This afternoon you ride TRAX Light Rail to the new Salt Lake Central Station and board the Front Runner Express commuter rail line north to Ogden. This 36-mile trip follows the Union Pacific’s mainline through the prosperous suburbs of the Salt Lake Valley, terminating at the beautifully restored Ogden Union Depot which now houses a complex of museums. The centerpiece is an exceptional railroad collection, including both narrow gauge and standard gauge engines and cars. Also in the complex are the Browning Firearms Museum and the Museum of Natural History. You return by Front Runner train and TRAX Light Rail to Salt Lake City; where your Farewell Dinner is at the Rio Grande Café, a very popular Mexican and American restaurant in the historic former terminal of the Rio Grande Railroad. (B,D)
Day 8 - Tour ends
The tour ends with independent departures by rail or air today. (B)