random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries from June 1, 2010 - June 30, 2010


The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 5

(Continued from: The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 4)

It felt good to rest. So much so that I rested the entire next day, Sunday, as well. I took that time to reflect on the trials of the Cima Subdivision experience and the triumphs from the Needles Subdivision. I still did not have my fill of chasing steel yet so I sat down with my iPad and made plans for Monday, Memorial Day.

I sought some location that would work best with the rising sun during sunrise. To that end, I used an application that I have for my iPad that graphically plots the sun’s location as an overlay on Goggle’s map application for a given location for any given moment in time.

Considering my lack of sleep thus far over the weekend I wanted some place that I could reach in relative short order so that I could sleep as long as possible. Given all my requirements I settled on a curve location on BNSF’s San Bernardino Subdivision at a place called Prado Dam by the railroad.

The time to rise came quickly and I gathered my gear and set out. I reached the target location in no time at all and drove around looking for the right spot. I finally settled, for various reasons, on a location that passed under Prado Road which leveraged the road’s bridge to gain a good vantage point.  

I set-up my cameras. Looking at track side signals I could see that a westbound was lined through.  It now just a matter of time. As I waited, many locals passed me either walking or jogging. After about 30 minutes it became clear that I was “that weird guy” that just seemed out place. Here I was standing on a bridge next to a camper for no discernible reason. People were crossing the street before approaching my area. But hey, I understand, better safe than sorry. I didn’t take it personally.

Soon I heard the westbound train blow her horn for the grade crossing near the Metrolink’s West Corona station at Auto Center Drive. I instinctively looked at my watch to calculate the time it would take another westbound train to come into view once I heard them blow the crossing so I could make use of that information for future shots.

A few short minutes later a westbound unit train of tank cars, one of my all-time favorite types of trains, came into view under Interstate 91. I was in position and took a series of shots that I am rather proud of because I planned for it and it worked out:

BNSF 7415 West at Sunrise - On Memorial Day 2010, BNSF 7415 (GE ES44DC) is the lead unit on this unit train through Prado Dam, CA, just after sunrise. [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

BNSF 7415 West at Sunrise 2 - [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

Unit Train at Prado Dam - [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

As if to compensate for the strike-out I suffered out on the Cima Sub on Saturday, the BNSF served up another gem for me. Shortly after the unit train cleared the area the westbound Southwest Chief, Amtrak Train #3, graced my viewfinder:  

Southwest Chief at Sunrise - AMTK 42 (GE P42DC) and AMTK 124 (GE P42DC) provide the power for the last 35 miles of the run of the westbound Southwest Chief, Amtrak #3, rounding a curve near Prado Dam, CA at sunrise on Memorial Day 2010. [5/31/2010 - San Bernardino Subdivision]

Once the sun had shifted I decided to move on. I headed east out of Corona bound for Union Pacific’s Yuma Subdivision in San Timoteo Canyon. I really enjoy the chase in the canyon because of the curvature of the tracks and the overall rural feeling that the area has.

Once again though I was bitten by the reduced volume of traffic and only saw two trains the entire 4 hours I spent there. Here is a one of them, a loaded eastbound auto train:

The weekend had come to close as I headed west towards home. As I leisurely motored on, I reflected on the weekend’s activities. Looking at the odometer on my truck’s speedometer I saw that I had covered nearly 675 miles! All total I “chased” 6 subdivisions to one degree or another: 

  • BNSF’s Cajon Subdivision
  • BNSF’s Needles Subdivision
  • Metrolink’s San Gabriel Subdivision
  • Union Pacific’s Cima Subdivision
  • Union Pacific’s Los Angeles Subdivision
  • Union Pacific’s Yuma Subdivision

I had planned to just spent a nice and quite few days camping near the Cima Subdivision. That wasn’t to be. Instead I went on “the mega tour,” and enjoyed the experience, but next time I think that I try to be less mega and more patient.

Perhaps I should call the Union Pacific ahead of time…



The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 4

(Continued from: The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 3)

You have to admit that I gave the Cima Subdivision a good effort. I just wasn’t having any luck. Sometimes the railfan gods just don’t smile upon you. That’s what a backup plan is for. Mine was to head south into Amboy and my home away from home, BNSF’s Needles Subdivision.

I made my way back down that arduous road that I had just traveled down a mere two hours ago and reached the pavement of the Kelso Cima Road once more. I kept an eye on the signals and trackage in case my luck would change as I motored south towards the Kelso depot and Kelbaker Road. My thought was that now that I was committed to leaving the Cima Subdivision the railfan gods would throw me a bone. 

Well, they did and then showed me who was boss again. As I reached the Kelso depot I saw the nearly forgotten vision of a headlight on the horizon. Could it be? I jumped out of my rig and positioned myself near the grade crossing on Kelbaker Road so I could spy the signal indications. “Sure enough, one’s coming,” I exclaimed to myself in an embarrassing sort of way. Jeez, I felt like a foamer!

As she neared, I framed the shot. The train was back-lit so I would get the best shot when she passed me and blew by the depot. I leveled the tripod and fussed with settings as I hurried to get “the shot.”

“Damn she’s not going very fast,” I noted. Well that was good for me as it gave me time to reposition for a better shot. OK, now I am ready. Looking over my shoulder, I was filled with disappointment once again. She came to a stop, well short of the depot and my location. “Shit!” Now I felt like I was being toyed with.

Here is the only shot of the train, any train, that I was able to capture while on the Cima Subdivision inside the Mojave National Preserve boundaries for a total 7 hours or so:

UP 7785 East at Kelso, CA - UP 7785 (GE C45ACCTE) slows to stop at Kelso, CA with an eastbound intermodal train. In a rare scene these days of distributed power, the train will wait here for a helper locomotive to assist with it’s assault of the Cima grade. [5/29/2010 - Cima Subdivision]I bid farwell to Kelso, the Cima Subdivision, and the Mojave National Preserve as I bolted south on Kelbaker Road towards Interstate 40. I smiled at my huge misfortune thus far as I cranked up the tunes and rolled the windows down.

As I made my hand into an airplane and held it out the window in a flying gesture, as all boys do, I thought of the goodness that the Needles Subdivision would bring. I smiled and laughed aloud. Things were looking up already.

I passed Interstate 40 and continued south on Kelbaker Road at a decent clip. I could sense the light would soon be low in the sky, one of my favorite times to shoot photographs. As I crested the the top of the last grade that leads down to the National Trails Highway, I saw no less than three trains off in the distance! Salvation at last!

I eventually reached the grade crossing at Amboy in time to catch an eastbound that had just cleared Bagdad. I hurried across the crossing on foot and set-up for the shot. I felt the rush of being “back in the action” as she scooted by at track speed.

I suspect that most photographers will agree that when you are shooting you are focused on getting the shot and not necessarily the subject of the shot. After this train went by and I reviewed the shots I realized that she was a beauty - an even-numbered lead unit an sporting an American flag to boot. The BNSF’s Needles Subdivision welcomed me in a huge way, and I think I earned it: 

Distant Thunder - As the sun begins sinks low into the sky, BNSF 7200 (GE ES44DC) is fully in charge of this eastbound stack train as she nears Amboy, CA. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision]

BNSF 7200 East - Late in the day, BNSF 7200 (GE ES44DC) and her intermodal charge kicks up dust as she proceeds east at track speed (70 MPH) through Amboy, CA. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision]

A Patriotic Tribute - As the suns backlights the scene, the crew of BNSF 7200 (GE ES44DC) East has apparently adorned the nose of the locomotive with a US flag as a tribute to Memorial Day, seen here blowing through Amboy, CA. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision]

I stayed throughout sunset in the area just west of Amboy and took as many shots as I could:

BNSF 6621 West 3 - BNSF 6621 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 5048 (GE DASH9-44CW), and BNSF 5068 (GE DASH9-44CW) lead this westbound intermodal by Amboy, CA with two distibuted power units on the rear. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision]

BNSF 7433 East - BNSF 7433 (GE ES44DC) is on the point of this eastbound intermodal approaching Amboy, CA as the sun begins to set. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision

Sunset Desert Railroading - In the golden hours of twilight, the sun traces the shape of this westbound manifest train as she heads west towards Barstow, CA after passing an eastbound intermodal at Amboy, CA. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision]

The Calm - A lull in traffic complements the sunset nicely near Amboy, CA. [5/29/2010 - Needles Subdivision]At this point I received a call from Deb saying that she was off to Las Vegas as a treat for her Mom. Although I was already in the Ludlow region seeking a good spot to camp for the night, I decided to head home to dog sit will Deb was gone.

So I left the Needles Subdivision as well and got home around 10:00 PM, a mere 19 hours after I had left and I had driven many, many miles. I was tired and had been intensely challenged yet I feel that captured some great scenes. Nonetheless, I had a great time.

By the way, there are still two days left in the weekend…and the Mega Tour…


The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 3

(Continued from: The Memorial Day Weekend Mega Tour - Part 2)

After stopping in at the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center of the Mojave National Preserve and talking with the ranger, I had to devise a new plan. I wouldn’t be able to follow the Cima Subdivision’s trackage, nor camp along the route, as I had hoped to do.

I was still permitted to follow the trackage from Kelso to Cima, California via the Kelso Cima Road so, that coupled with the knowledge of a possible camp site relatively close to Cima, that the ranger told me about, gave me enough incentive to continue with my plans - albeit modified extensively.

I drove north towards Cima at a leisurely pace to enjoy the beautiful scenery and to get a idea appreciation of the lay of the land in hopes of identifying good photo locations. There were plenty of great views and vistas along the way - just no trains. “Perhaps they are a little further up the line,” I thought as I kept driving, knowing all the while that I was lying to myself.

I happened upon a control point (or siding) named CP Chase, which is the name of one of our puppies, and decided to wait for a train there. I took a few shots to make sure the camera settings and my framing of the subject were good. Here is one of the photos that I took so you can get a sense of the terrain and track structure:

CP Chase - UP trackage at Chase, CA in the Mojave National Preserve. [5/29/2010 - Cima Subdivision]

As the temperature rose, I realized that I had been on the road for nearly 12 hours at this point and I began to feel weary. As I sat at the crossing at Cedar Canyon Road, taking a bit of a rest, I looked out the windshield and studied the terrain. Off in the distance, running in a due westerly direction, was a faint line marking an obvious trail of some sort.

After considering my location and my knowledge of the area, I surmised that I was looking at the famous Mojave Road, used by many to access California at the coast. It was initially a route for the local Mohave Indians to hunt and trade along. It wasn’t until after I snapped this photo of the scene that I noticed the marker near the trail-head confirming my discovery (Remember I said I was tired!):

Traveling Through Time - Three arteries of travel, from ancient times through today, comprise this scene in the Mojave National Preserve. In the foreground is Union Pacific’s Cima Subdivision, in the middle of the frame is the Kelso Cima Road and in the distance is the ancient Mojave Road which was used by Mohave Indians to reach the California coast. [5/29/2010 - Cima Subdivision]

After waiting nearly an hour I decided it best to try to find a train rather than waiting for one to find me. I bid farwell to CP Chase and raced toward Cima, about 10 miles north on Kelso Cima Road. I made the trek in short order and remembered quickly why I was fond of this area so much. 

In my opinion, the area around Cima holds tons of photographic opportunties, with repsect to railroad photography. The are all of the requisite elements of grade, curvature, diversity, and beautiful scenery. The only thing missing, at the time I was there, were the TRAINS!

I began to sense a pattern. I would find a great location to shoot a train from and wait - but no trains would grace the scene for me. I know that the Cima Subdivision has lower traffic volumes than most of the other subdivisions that I chase, but this was down right sad.

I decided to seek out the camp site the ranger had told me about and set-up camp in hopes of a better tomorrow. I departed Cima, and all of the missed opportunites, heading south towards CP Chase. A short distance down the road and I had reached the turnoff for the camp site. 

Of of the disadvantages of carrying a “cozy condo” with you, wherever you go, is that your opportunities to turn around are reduced due to the vehicle’s size and weight. So was the case on this road. I had traveled further and further down this road to a point where I began to realize it might take some time to get there and, more importantly, leave there in the cover of darkness tomorrow morning. I had second thoughts about the appropriateness of the “secret camp site” for this particular trip. I looked for a place were I could safely turn around. There was none, as the following photo shows, and I was now committed to the find the camp site:

Road to the “Secret Camp Site” - This is the a photograph of the road that led me to the secret camp site described by the ranger. This was the mellowest part of the eight mile trek to the end of the road.

After a good hour’s drive I reached the camp site and could see why the ranger considered it one of the best in the park. The area was beautiful and remained predominately untouched by man. I found myself tucked into a draw, surrounded on three sides by mountains. The area was ablaze with blooming cactus and foliage of all sorts. It was insanely quiet.

I decided to make the most of it since I was here. I parked the truck and got something to eat. After lunch I decided to take a few a “nature” photos since I was miles away from the tracks by now. Here are two of the many shots I took of the local blooms: 

Mohave Pricklypear Cactus Bloom - The beautiful yellow bloom of the Mohave Pricklypear Cactus (Opuntia erinacea).

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus Bloom - A gorgeous Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus flower (Echinocereus engelmannii).

I walked around, being mindful of the ranger’s last words regarding the “abundance” of snakes in the area, and took photos for about one hour when I thought I would rest up a bit in the camper. On my way to camper I saw a previously unseen, large anthill near the camper with the largest black ants I have ever seen! Unfortunately, the ants were heading out in a line straight for my camper! Enough was enough I decided to leave the fun and frivolity of the Mojave National Preserve and the Cima Subdivision behind me…