Amtrak's large blank train travels to all major US cities and traverses some of the country's most spectacular landscapes. Their robust charm sets them apart from more everyday means of transport, and while this may not be the quickest way to get around, it is perfect for sightseeing. You can choose companions, read a book, let your mind loose, sleep horizontally and generally enjoy most of the comforts of home. It is much more fun than being isolated over the clouds or driving past endless freeway billboards.
Amtrak operates almost all of America's passenger trains, and the following are among the most entertaining scenic routes:
California Zephyr is one of the world's great trains, traveling from Chicago to San Francisco using the heartland of America and the high plains of Colorado, and then climbing into the Rocky Mountains via the Oregon Trail. The pioneers came this way, as did gold prospectors, the pony phrase and the first continental telegraph. After Salt Lake City you cross the Bonneville Salt Flats and the beautiful but dangerous Sierra Nevada.
Sunset Limited's epic journey takes you coast to coast from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The train makes a dizzy crossing of the Mississippi River on the Huey P Long Bridge in Crescent City before traveling between meandering, white egrets, alligators, mansions and sugar cane fields. After San Antonio, it joins the Rio Grande, taking a day to traverse sagebrush and mesquite prairies in Texas.
The Southwest Chief travels between Chicago and the Pacific, following a section of the Santa Fe Trail first used by Native Americans, Spanish conquerors, wagon trains, and stage trainers. Cross the Mojave Desert and pass Dodge City's famous Boot Hill burial ground. From Williams, Arizona, you can travel to the Grand Canyon by train.
The crescent goes from New York to New Orleans through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the idyllic Shenandoah National Park with dogwood and cedar. Beyond Atlanta are sleepy southern cities with quaint grocery stores and sun-bleached houses. The train also makes a dramatic crossing of the Pontchartrain lake, and foams a few meters above the water on a six mile long road.
Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles via Washington, Oregon and California. It passes some of America's highest mountains, such as volcanic Mt Hood, as well as the emerald forests and waterfalls of the Twin Peaks country. Beyond San Luis Obispo, it runs on tracks set high on cliffs, with stunning views of the Pacific surf and beaches.