Events during the year of 2019 prevented us from taking any trips. We missed the adventures. In February 2020, we decided it was time to plan a trip in the U.S., somewhere we could get to easily. Santa Fe, New Mexico was our choice. The change of scenery, the potential for sunny weather, local hiking, and lots of museums attracted us. Amtrak could take us from Ft. Madison, IA to Lamy, NM, and it would take less than 24 hours. It seemed like a good plan.
Departure was set for 10 March. We arranged for a rental car and a comfortable casita for 7 nights in Santa Fe. Return was to be 18 March. All the plans fell into place. We were excited.
The train left Chicago and arrived in Ft. Madison on time, in the early evening. We boarded and settled into our coach seats . Arrival at the Kansas City Union Station was to be about 3 hours later. The KC stop lasted for nearly an hour. Passengers got off to stretch legs or have a smoke.
We’ve been to the KC Union Station before during the daytime. It houses restaurants, shops, and science exhibits. During our train stop we were able to go inside. It was closed and empty except for some cleaning crews. The cavernous main room was quiet.
Of course, we were aware of the growing problem of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. before we left on our trip. When we made plans there were no cases in Iowa or New Mexico. We weren’t too worried about getting there and back in about a week.
The train cut across the southeast corner of Colorado. Mountains to the west came into view before it reached Trinidad.
The next stop was Raton, NM. First we needed to slowly climb in elevation, all the while following the original, historic Santa Fe trail. The sign below greeted us at the tunnel entrance atop the mountain pass. We emerged at the other end and descended to Raton.
The number of COVID-19 virus cases grew very quickly while we were in Santa Fe enjoying ourselves. We checked the news each day. Our home county in Iowa reported several cases. Some cases showed up in New Mexico. We started to worry as news reports of closures and cancellations grew. To avoid being stranded in NM, it seemed prudent to cut short our vacation by 2 days. We made a call to Amtrak.
On departure day we returned our rental car. The shuttle van arrived to take us to the old train station, 15 miles south in Lamy. For years it has been staffed by local volunteers instead of Amtrak.
When we arrived, a woman who was the unofficial ‘Station Master’ greeted us. She was cleaning and wiping down surfaces. She seemed kind of sad. Only days earlier Amtrak told them to vacate the station management. Amtrak was going to take it over again. She said they had removed posters, pictures, decorations, and the small cafe that gave the station a warm, cozy feel.
We waited outside for the train and ate our picnic lunch. The distant horn sounded, prompting us to get in position. As we walked, the Station Master came outside and yelled “Have a nice trip.” What a friendly thing to do. We waved back.
We arranged to have a sleeper roomette for the trip home, in order to better isolate ourselves. Andrea, the sleeper car porter, said our dinner reservation was 6 pm in the dining car. Two strangers to us sat across our table. They were friendly and conversational. Other tables of 4 filled the car. There was talk of the virus threat and how it impacted so many lives already.
Breakfast next morning started at 6:30 am. The woman in charge said they just got word from Amtrak that only 2 per table was allowed, sitting at alternating tables in order to maximize distance. We could either eat there or have our breakfast delivered to our roomette. We chose to stay.
The staff seemed nervous about the change of plans and procedures. They did their best and were cheerful and helpful. One employee said the train service might be cut back or stopped as early as the next week. Employees would be on furlough and go on unemployment. He looked grim at the prospect.
It was comforting to get back to Ft. Madison and our car. The hour-and-a-half drive home felt familiar. We were glad to get home, feeling a little more in control of our lives. Now we wait.