To the Limit of the Sunset Limited

On December 4th, I finished the last stretch of the Sunset Limited train line.

This is the view from the back of the last car in the train.

This is the view from the back of the last car in the train.

The last I had seen of Texas scenery from the train had been a couple hours past El Paso when the sun had set on December 1st. It had still been sparsely populated desert. When the sun rose as I was on the train heading out of San Antonio, the scenery didn’t look like desert at all. It was a lot of ranch land. The train passed various small towns – Kingsbury and Eagle Lake were two of them based on the signs I saw. I also saw some of the Aeromoter windmills used to pump water from the large aquifer which lies under this region of Texas.

A Texas town between San Antonio and Houston.

A Texas town between San Antonio and Houston.

When the density of buildings started rising, I knew we were getting close to Houston. I was surprised at how non-dense the city is, even as we got close to downtown. Forget San Francisco, central San Antonio is much denser than central Houston.

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston

Houston train station is ridiculous. It’s near downtown Houston, yet it doesn’t have ANY eateries or cafes within walking distance, nor does it have wifi (San Antonio station has all of those). And we had to stay there for an hour and a half. At least the train station has a mildly interesting history exhibit – probably put together by some train employee who was super bored because they had spent way too much time at Houston train station.

This sign proves that Houston is next Los Angeles *and* New Orleans

This sign proves that Houston is next Los Angeles *and* New Orleans

Past Houston, the scenery changed dramatically. At first, it was a lot of short trees with cacti mixed among them (yes, a tree forest with cacti, it looked like a weird combo). Then the cacti disappeared, and the trees got taller. There was a combination of confiers and deciduous trees, and eventually the conifers disappeared. Puddles and creeks became more common in the forest, until it became clear that we had entered bayou country.

A bayou in Texas.

A bayou in Texas.

Due to the combination of low light and the speed of the train, it was really difficult to take photos of the bayou where anything was discernable. But it was beautiful. The trees had a mix of colors – green, yellow, and red. The various aquatic plants at their base also came in green and red.

This is Lake Houston - an awfully large lake to cross on a train!

This is Lake Houston – an awfully large lake to cross on a train!

Another passenger said that, the last time he had gone on this route, he had seen over thirty deer. I only saw two, but I can believe that a lot of deer live in this area.

I saw this ship in Louisiana.

I saw this ship in Louisiana.

Past San Antonio, there were a lot fewer Latino passengers. However, the closer we got to New Orleans, the browner the passengers. To be fair, that perception might have been skewed by the fact that a tour group of over 70 people boarded the train at Beaumont, Texas, all of them African-American one of them told me that they all visit New Orleans together once a year – he said he went with them because it breaks up his everyday routine. But even ignoring the tour group, I definitely noticed a shift away from Latino towards African-American passengers (including one guy who identified himself as Creole). I assume this reflects how the demographics changes as the train moves east, just as the landscape changes.

At some point, we passed the Texas/Lousiana border. Southwestern Lousiana was a lot more bayou.

Louisiana Bayou!

Louisiana Bayou!

As we moved further east, the (human) population density in Louisiana rose.

I started seeing a lot of facilities like this in Louisiana.

I started seeing a lot of facilities like this in Louisiana.

We started passing a quite a few rivers, often with large boats in them.

Eventually, it got too dark to take photos. I noticed that, in Lafayette, a lot of houses are built on raised foundations – I guess it’s to prevent flood damage.

The final approach into New Orleans was slow because the train had to follow a very curvy track – the train conductor explained that there is a specific procedure to entering New Orleans train station for safety reasons. In spite of that, the train arrived ahead of schedule, for which I was grateful. I had reached the limit of the Sunset Limited.

This mural is inside New Orleans train station. I'm guessing it was painted in the 1930s.

This mural is inside New Orleans train station. I’m guessing it was painted in the 1930s.

Texas is a big state. By looking at the schedule – and not including the long stops in San Antonio and Houston – the train takes about 20 hours to cross the state. During the long stretch in Texas, there is a gradual yet fantastic shift from desert to wetlands. Even though I was only in Texas for a few days, the train showed me that it is a very diverse state.

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