Trainspotting Along Sidewinder Road

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We love trains, I especially love being around them.

My folks first introduced me to trains in the little town of Guadalupe, Calif. while we lived in Santa Maria in the early 1950’s.

Northbound Freight Near Sidewinder Road
Northbound Southern Pacfic Freight Near Sidewinder Road

Since then whenever I am near railroad tracks or hear the distant rumble of a train my pulse quickens.

In the last 40 years, Denise and I have ridden trains all over the world and the USA including Thailand, Burma, China, Sri Lanka, India, England, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and several other exotic locations.  

One of our all time favorite train rides was from Beijing to Ulan Bator skirting the Gobi Desert.  A massive steam engine pulled us through the night passing the Great Wall of China at sunset.

China Steam Train Awaits Departure To Mongolia 1983
China Steam Train Awaits Departure To Mongolia 1983

As we steamed across the Mongolian-Manchurian Steppe’s, I spent many hours leaning out the coach door in freezing temps watching the Mongolian grass lands pass while listening to the howl of the steam whistle. 

It was one of those magical experiences one never forgets. 

Most often instead of flying or taking a bus to our next destination we would take an overnight train if we could.  This allowed us enough time to see the countryside and enjoy the full sleeper-car experience (they were very hard berths in China). It also gave us time to meet the locals and make new friends.

Denise Onboard The Train From Columbo To Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka 1984
Denise Aboard The Columbo To Hikkaduwa Train In  Sri Lanka 1984

In the early 70’s while hitchhiking our way to Alaska, my brother and I and our friends hopped a Canadian freight between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

There is nothing quite like riding in the open doorway of a boxcar at 70 mph while passing through hundreds of miles of stunning scenery.

It is especially exciting when you pass over a trestle with a 300′ drop to a river below.  An absolutely exhilarating ride!

The trip lasted over 13 hours until a railroad brakeman kicked us off near the coast.

Between Prince George And Prince Rupert In Route To Alaska 1973
Between Prince George And Prince Rupert In Route To Alaska 1973

Obviously todays trains are not the fastest way to travel but if you have the time they certainly can be relaxing and reminiscent of a time when life was slower paced.  

Almost all of the current rail beds in this country were constructed before the turn of the century and as you ride along today you can visualize what the early west used to look like.

Imagine looking out the coach window and seeing hundreds of thousands of buffalo across the plains or crossing the Colorado River before it was dammed.

Denise Shops For Dinner From The Widow Of The Rangoon To Mandalay Train Burma 1983
Denise Shops For Dinner From The Train Widow On The Rangoon To Mandalay Train Burma 1982

Whenever we get a chance to camp near train tracks it is very exciting.  Yes, it can be noisy but to some of us it is music to our ears.

I find the rumbling sound of steel wheels and full throttle diesels comforting, it makes me yearn to be on board headed for some distant exotic location.  I guess I should have worked on the railroad.

Our Sidewinder Road Campsite
Our Sidewinder Road Campsite

Last winter we camped along Ogilby Road just west of Yuma, AZ.

(remember here)

Recently we returned to the same area but decided to camp closer to the Southern Pacific main line which parallels Sidewinder Road for a few miles.  This enabled us to easily watch the trains as they passed by.

The Big Dogs Watch A Passing Frieght
The Big Dogs Eyeball A Passing Frieght

We set up camp about a 1/4 mile from the tracks and let me tell you it is a very busy line.  

There was a siding along the area and often trains waited for other trains to pass which which gave me plenty of time to photograph.

A train would pass about every 20-30 mins or less.  At first the big dogs were very excited by every approaching train but that quickly faded.

Kangaroo Rat Tracks
Kangaroo Rat Tracks In The Desert Sand

99% of all trains passing us were freight trains hauling shipping containers.  One has to wonder what the heck was is in all the thousands of containers that passed us during our stay.  

There is currently only one Amtrak passenger train daily each direction called the Sunset Limited.  It  would passed our camp in the middle of the  night around 3:00-5:00 am…we never saw them.

Not as much need for passenger trains these days, people just don’t have time to ride trains anymore.

Volcanic Rock Pile Behind Our Camp
Volcanic Rock Pile Behind Our Camp

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A short distance north of the railroad is a group of low brown hills isolated from the adjacent Cargo Muchachos mountains.  They are composed of a dark volcanic basalt stone that in the past was used for ballast and riprap along the railroad. 

The boulders were all about the size of a wheelbarrow and were extremely hard.

Our campsite was situated at the base of  these rocks and made for a very interesting backdrop.  One morning just after sunrise we watched a lone coyote disappear into the boulders to his den just up the hill from us.  The big dogs heard them at dusk each night and did a little of their own howling.

What was strange was that the boulders only covered the surface of the ground a few boulders deep.  Beneath them was a a huge mound of white soil.  Not sure what kind of  geologic formation this would be called.

Hiking In The Volcanic Boulders
Hiking In The Volcanic Boulders

Our daily walks took us over and around these strange formations.  From the top of the boulder piles we could see dozens of motorhomes camped about 2 miles away along Olgiby Road.

We were glad to be only ones camped along the Sidewinder access road.

LuLu Scrambles In The Boulders
LuLu Scrambles In The Boulders
Ocotillo Blooms
Ocotillo Blooms

For 5 days we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves trainspotting along Sidewinder Road before heading back into LA for the holidays.  

In the evenings clouds would form in the distance making for some fantastic sunsets over the Imperial Sand Dunes.  The night sky stars were incredible, what more could one ask for.

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Don’t miss our newest video “Trainspotting Along Sidewinder Road”

Pop in the ear-buds and enjoy!  Be sure to watch in 1080p for the best picture quality.

Be sure to subscribe by clicking the pop-up button below if you haven’t already!

Next we head below sea level for more adventures…..keep you posted!

21 thoughts on “Trainspotting Along Sidewinder Road

  1. The desert does provide the best sunsets. Looks like you found a perfect spot to camp for a spell. I enjoy your photos and tales of trips from your past. Fond memories, I’m sure.

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  2. I absolutely love your posts as much for the activities of younger days as for your current adventures. Your videos are phenomenal…the scenery, the music and the aerial.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I’ve ALWAYS loved train travel too – Euro Rail pass when I was younger. At one point, traveled on a freight train for a little while before we got in trouble and had to get off….so I can definitely identify with your love of trains. I wish we had more passenger trains and possibilities for travel as I still enjoy the movement of the train – to me very peaceful. I loved night trains and the way the rocking would have me asleep in no time.

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  4. Wow, great stories! Love the Neecie photos. I was reminded of the train I hopped on in Barstow in the heat of summer. It was a freight train that we got off of in Gallup, New Mexico. I vividly remember sitting with my legs hanging out of the freight car eating rice (a guy cooked right there) and watching an incredible sunst going through the Painted Desert. Memories like that just don’t fade away. I love that you both are still experiencing them.

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    1. Great memories Chris! Yes theres nothing like being free with no real responsibilities and riding the rails, not something many folks get a chance to experience nowadays. Kinda makes you want to do it again…… 🙂

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  5. I just love your storytelling and how you weave in past (amazing) adventures and beautiful photography. Will definitely have to keep in mind the train viewing area for our next visit down there. Big hugs to you both and the Big Dogs!

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  6. Once again an awesome video and perfect song selection! You definitely were embraced with some beautiful sunsets…photos are primo. Rincon on the coast gotta be a favorite…surf on one side…a multitude of trains (we counted 26 one day) on the other. Love your post.

    Michael & Imkelina

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    1. Thanks for the nice review and comments we appreciate them!
      Yes we also love the Rincon and usually spend some part of our winter along that area. We have ridden the Coast Starlight several times and it is one of our favorite Calif rides especially along the Point Conception coastline. Thanks again !

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