There’s slow travel and then there’s slow travel with a view. The Sunset Limited (which sounds like it could be the title of a Wes Anderson film) is the perfect way to travel across the southern United States and see her in all her glory. The train has been plying the two day route from New Orleans to Los Angeles for well over 100 years – since 1894. It is the country’s most southerly train route, winding its way across the bottom of the States, sometimes only metres from the Mexican border.
Train travel was once a much more glamorous and popular affair. The Sunset Limited at one time had its own post office, barber’s car, a ladies’ lounge and of course, several bars. It was a place where people dressed for dinner and didn’t worry about the time it took to get from one side of the country to another. The journey itself was something to look forward to. That is one thing that hasn’t changed for those who choose to board the Sunset Limited. Rather than be herded like cattle through airport queues, train travelers actually see the country they’re crossing in a safe, quiet and comfortable way without adding to their carbon footprint.
Step into a “roomette,” a small room with two seats that transform into bunks, and settle down to watch the scenery change as day turns to night and back again. From the bracken swamp lands of Louisiana, to the shiny skyscrapers of Dallas and the small clapperboard towns with their proud water towers that are dotted across Texas, (which seems to go on forever), the first day unravels before the tracks as the train ploughs solidly west, chasing the sunset.
Somewhere around Del Rio, Texas, the sun rises and small towns give way to dusty desert, cacti and the squat orange mountains as the “lone star state” merges into New Mexico’s barren landscape at the Rio Grande. Watching America’s scenery pass by the windows, you cannot help but be impressed by the scale of this country and its vast geographical differences. Each new landscape reminds each guest of the incredible effort it took to create a union out of such a vast and varied land. Looking out the window, you can almost picture events that took place long ago – for example, the land that crosses into New Mexico was once the hunting ground of Billy the Kid.
The train chugs through the bottom, left-hand corner of New Mexico and into Arizona and heads for Tucson. Between here and California the Sonoran desert is full of huge saguaro cactus, sand dunes and rattlesnakes – it’s one of America’s most inhospitable landscapes, but its stark beauty is impossible to turn away from. During the night, the train crosses into its final state and stops at the state’s A-lister resort of Palm Springs before lurching into Los Angeles before dawn.
Riding on the Sunset Limited is a journey that will stay with you forever; one that opens up and reveals the southern states to you like nothing else. Taking two days out to travel to a destination is a luxury in itself in this modern era; however, you’ll be captivated by a landscape that inspires you to think, dream and feel while you watch it unfurl around you.