Friday, January 19, 2024

Sundown: Part One

My favorite time for photography is the ten minutes or so before and after sundown when the world feels content and calm.  Railroad photography then is challenging, because (1) catching a train in such a brief window can be problematic, and (2) getting the proper exposure (I still shoot film) is tricky.  Still, I have been doing this long enough to accumulate many images, a few of which follow.

Mojave Desert

BNSF's California mainline crawls with trains, one or two of which sometimes appear in the last light of day.  In the Mojave Desert, nothing blocks the view for miles, and one is reminded of the transience of all living things.  

Eastbound stacks climb Bolo Hill.  Four additional trains are illuminated down the hill, indicating just how busy the Transcon can become.

A manifest and stacks passing at the top of Ash Hill.

Two trains meeting at the bottom of Ash Hill.

Pushers at Amboy.

Stacks at Amboy.

A meet on Ash Hill.

Light power in the open desert.

Mid-trains chasing the sun.

Even creosote cast long shadows this time of day.

Santa Fe

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe ran the fastest freights in the world.  The Transcon from Chicago to California was an unequaled super-highway.  The north/south main to Texas, though not as fast, still put to shame other roads serving the Lone Star State.  I believed that the Santa Fe, unlike the Rock Island and Milwaukee Road, would last forever.

The sun sets on the AT&SF.

Crossing the Cimarron River, southbound to Oklahoma City.

Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.

Amtrak on Santa Fe rails leaving Lawrence, Kansas.

Guthrie, Oklahoma, and the last cantilever signal on the Red Rock Sub..

Ottawa, Kansas.

Seward, Oklahoma.

Waynoka, Oklahoma.


North of Edmond, Oklahoma.

Logan County, Oklahoma.

San Gorgonio Pass

Southern Pacific's gateway out of the Los Angeles Basin to the Imperial Valley (today operated by Union Pacific) provides serious mountain railroading at Beaumont Hill.  Unfortunately, California has surrounded the tracks with subdivisions, windmills and desert swimming pools.  Still, with diligence, one can discover relatively pristine photographic locations that, late in the day, sparkle with the promise of new creation.

Everyone has an opinion of these 21st century windmills.  I think they look like space aliens.


I love this light, but train crews don't.

More mid-trains.

High desert.

Shortly after taking this image, the photographer got stuck in the sand.

Belen, New Mexico

A major division point on BNSF's Transcon, Belen sits quietly along the Rio Grande.  Without the railroad, the town would disappear.  With it, the sleepy village still has one foot in the grave.  Several of the best photographic locations within 30 miles or so of town are surrouded by sand deep enough to snare even the sturdiest four-wheel-drive vehicle, as you author has discovered more than once.

Very late on a deeply overcast day, two trains pass on the Transcon.

Eastbound as the sun sets.


And another.

Westbound Amtrak has just crossed Rio Grande. 

Loaded coal above the valley of the Rio Grande.

Eastbound chased by the setting sun.


Mile Post 31.9 west of Belen.

Colorado and Southern

The Colorado and Southern south of Denver to Texas saw little traffic until the passage of the Clean Air Act in the 1970's, when utilities across the country began devouring coal from the Powder River Basin.  When Burlington Northern owned the line, traffic was steady, though not heavy enough to require CTC, except across Trinchera Pass.  Still, trains at sundown were common enough to warrant photography.

Northbound empties.


Riding the roller coaster along the Front Range.  Santa Fe power was common on this line.

Not all traffic was coal, but most was.

Southbound loads to Texas.

High Plains rainbow.

Climbing the hills to Denver.

Cajon Pass

Cajon Pass is flanked by the San Gabriel Mountains on the west, and the sun disappears behind the peaks an hour or more before it slips below the actual horizon.  In a few places, however, late afternoon light does sneek through.

Eastbound UP climbing to the high desert.

Chasing the sun to San Bernardino. 

Oil train approaching the summit.

Autos headed east.

Canadian, Texas

In the northern Texas Panhandle, BNSF's Transcon follows Red Deer Creek southwest out of the vallley of the Canadian River (at the eponymously named Canadian, Texas) to the Llano Estacado, one of the largest table lands in the world, rising from about 3000 feet in the southeast to about 5000 feet in the northwest and extending over 37,000 square miles.

Westbound approaching the Llano Estacado.

Westbound.  The grain elevator of Canadian, Texas, rises in the background.


In the valley of Red Deer Creek.


At sundown, bridges often provide a nice silhouette, if you are lucky enough to find a train.

Pecos River, New Mexico -- BNSF



Cimarron River, Oklahoma -- BNSF

Sacramento Wash, Arizona -- BNSF.

Canadian River, Oklahoma -- BNSF.

Lake Texhoma, Oklahoma.

Part Two will contain more sundown images in different locations.

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