muriel j smith 120aTraveling the Capitol Limited from Washington DC to Chicago and leaving late in the afternoon doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing as you head west through Rockville Maryland, then quickly into historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, passing through a tunnel, and landing back in Maryland, this time at Cumberland.  By 8 in the evening, you’ve put both those states behind, while picking up Pennsylvania, though Pittsburgh is a far cry from the Philadelphia side of the Keystone state visited on the trip from Metro Park to Washington. It’s close to 2 in the morning when you put Pennsylvania behind and begin the approximate four-hour ride through Ohio.

You have to read to know the fascinating places you pass through in Ohio, since the Limited, the only train that makes the Chicago-Washington run daily, also passes through at night in the east bound run. But even after dark it’s easy to see you’re passing through acres of farmland, seeing lots of cattle and horses in open fields, and, last week anyway, at least a smattering of snow here and there.

About 12 hours into the trip, you’re in Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, where there’s a 20-minute stop to change crews operating the train; the on-board services staff, who make the beds, prepare and serve the meals and man the lounges are on the train from Washington through Chicago.

Another brief stop at Sandusky, Ohio, and coming out of the city, you might also spot the plumes of steam spewing from the nuclear power plant not too distant. It’s around here you’re going to notice your first-time change, going from Eastern to the Central time zone, at Waterloo, the first stop in Indiana.

The train arrives in Waterloo, near Fort Wayne just as the son is rising, and gets to South Bend in time to see the magnificence of Norte Dame’s domes in the early morning light. A quick breakfast is available, as is a more leisurely breakfast in the dining car, before arriving in Chicago, about 18 hours after leaving Washington, DC.

Legacy Lounge in ChicagoChicago’s Union Station is massive, and holds the title for being the only station in the United States in which trains arrive or depart from all four directions, north, south, east, and west.  The station itself holds none of the charm, excitement nor beauty of Washington’s Union Station, but the architecture is magnificent and there are plenty of signs and displays telling you all about the renovations. There’s a separate lounge for first class passengers, and for $20, coach passengers can enjoy the Legacy Lounge, a massive and highly decorated room in Union Station, where hot beverages, light snacks, comfortable seating, television and lots of opportunities to use laptops are all available, together with baggage storage should you rather venture outdoors for a spell, and a call when it’s time to board the next train. Visit there late afternoon on the way back, and there’s also a cocktail area with wine and beer included among the complimentary beverages. Either way, its’ well worth the $20.

With trains running on time…and the vast majority of them do…it’s about four hours between the time you arrive and the time you can board the California Zephyr for the most spectacular journey to the Est, climbing through the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The 18 hour trip from the Nation's Capitol is only the first leg of realizing just how magnificent and diverse our nation truly is.

NEXT: The Spectacular views from the Zephyr