There were so many things to see while riding on the train. As you would probably expect, this region of the country is largely farm and ranch land. I saw a lot of cattle, sheep and horses on my journey. In terms of wildlife, it was difficult if not impossible to snap a photo of anything of interest that we passed. I did see several herd of deer, some wild turkeys, pheasants and a rather scraggly coyote.
As much as I enjoy the wildlife and scenery around me, however, I really think I liked the various aspects of weather more. It was unseasonably warm the week that I traveled. In Montana we had very high winds; high enough that they issued a turbulence warning for all passengers. They said that 50+ mph winds had been clocked and for that reason we needed to be careful moving about the cars. I think the high winds also made it necessary to go slower than normal. I was able to snap a photo of a dust storm in the distance near a grain processing plant.
Later that same day as nightfall approached, we were finally seeing some snow on the ground. Shortly thereafter, it was snowing and before long, it was a total white-out blizzard like situation. This was as we were approaching Glacier National Park in an area I noted was called Grizzly, MT (just before the Browning, MT station).
As we pulled up to the depot in Minot, ND the tragedy of last year's flooding could be seen on the houses to the north of the station. Many were still marked by the high flood water and mud, still boarded up and unoccupied. A tragic reminder of how devastating the spring thaw and rains can be.
On the east bound return trip, the foggy sunrise in Minnesota was surreal. It was like we were driving at an elevation of zero in the clouds. We were fortunate that we got to see this as I previously stated since we were running roughly four hours behind schedule and this was an area that we should have been through long before sunrise.
The other thing of great interest to me during the train ride was the economic boom going on in North Dakota. As the train made its way east to west, there were an increasing number of oil wells and production plants. Halliburton had two large facilities that we passed along the way. I also saw one of the housing projects where the men working in the area were living. It was just rows and rows of tiny white square buildings.
During breakfast my first full day on the train, I was seated with a young man who was working in the energy fields of North Dakota. He and his family lived near St. Cloud, MN but he trained weekly to Stanley, ND for work. He said that he shared a small "house" that was more like a mobile storage unit with three other guys. It wasn't pretty he said, but it was a place to go to bed every night after long 12-14 hour work shifts. It sounded like a really hard life to me, but it was something he was willing to do to support his wife and kids.
It is experiences like that, sharing a meal with a stranger and learning more about how others live that riding the Amtrak made possible. For the opportunity to explore, see and learn about something beyond my normal field of view was the most special thing about this trip.
Of course I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little about my time with my sister and nephew. While entirely too short a time together, it was really nice to be with them in a relaxed atmosphere with nothing really to do and no expectations of having to get somewhere or entertaining someone. The fact was, we were on the train and I would get to Milwaukee when the train arrived . . . and they would continue on and get to Chicago where they'd make their final connection to return home. Very relaxing indeed!
I had been forewarned about "the people on the train" and to be careful. I have to say while yes, a very eclectic group of individuals, I didn't find anything particularly concerning or threatening. Given that this trip coincided with spring break at some schools, many riding the train were students. In Whitefish I boarded with over 100 people who were there as part of packaged ski trips from places like Minneapolis and Detroit.
In the lounge cars you could find families and retirees enjoying the company of others as the miles passed by their window. Yes, stations across the nation, one mile at a time. I was reminded of the GoRV.com commercial of the family traveling in their motor home creating a lifetime of family memories. I have to say as I watched people on the train, I felt like I was witnessing something that I would hope they would remember for the rest of their lives.