Under Western Skies, September 1989

Transcending the Divide.

In September 1989, an eastward Denver & Rio Grande Western freight works toward the Moffat Tunnel where it will pass the Continental Divide.

Driving west across the United States, you reach a point beyond the Missouri River where the skies are truly clear—free from pollution and moisture—and the landscape reaches to seemingly endless horizons. At that point, you have transcended that abstract American frontier between ‘East’ and ‘West’. That was my take on it, when in September 1989, I made my first cross-country drive from Massachusetts to California. They write songs about that sort of thing.

In Tuesday’s post (March 12, 2013), I told of my misfortune caused when I lost the services provided by my Toyota’s alternator in the Utah desert and alluded to the photographs I made, despite this setback.

Amtrak California Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr rolls west on the Denver & Rio Grande Western through Gore Canyon, Colorado in September 1989. At the back of the train is privately owned former Lehigh Valley observation car 353. Ok, so the sky had a few fair weather clouds, but these dispersed as the day cooled. Leica M2 with Kodachrome 25.

Immediately prior to the alternator event, I’d spent a full day photographing the Denver & Rio Grande Western in the Colorado Rockies. Then, the next day, with the alternator light ‘on,’ I spent an equally productive morning on Utah’s Soldier Summit.

Feel the power; a pair of D&RGW SD45s in ‘run-8’ roar west on Soldiers Summit. In the distance, an eastward train approaches. I didn’t dare turn the car off, for fear it wouldn’t start again.

The railroad was alive with trains, the weather was fine, and I made good use of my Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25.

‘There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west . . .’  Although I was making photos, my drive West wasn’t really about photography. I was following old sage advice and was moving West to live. And I did, too. For five years I called California home.

There’s nothing like seeing someplace for the first time, and this trip west opened my eyes to railway photography, in ways I’d not previously experienced. Five years in California changed the way I looked at things and my photography evolved very quickly. When I came back to Colorado and Utah in later years, I was armed with new vision and a whole new set of equipment.

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