Montana Daylight over the Austin Trestle.
Photo courtesy Montana Rockies Rail Tours

From Fear of Flying
To Thrill of the Rail

Story and Photos by Tim Boxer

EMEMBER the words of Dinah Shore: See the USA in a Chevrolet. This year, our mantra is: See the USA on the railway.

Since 9/11 some Americans are reluctant to fly to far-off destinations. This fear of flying extends mainly to vacations in foreign lands. It is understandable. But this safety caution should not prevent you from enjoying a holiday within our borders.

Visitors in awe of Old Faithful at
Yellowstone National Park.

There is one domestic safe spot (out of many) that I can heartily recommend. Take a weeklong journey with Montana Rockies Rail Tours. You will discover the beauty and vastness of the Northwest while at the same time putting your vacation dollars at work to strengthen our economy.

In the November issue I described my adventure on a tour aboard a restored streamliner on original 1880s rail routes through Montana. You can access the article in Archives.

Whether you opt for a two-day relaxing trip or a fully escorted tour of a week’s duration, you will thrill at the forested rocky ridges and tumbling whitewater rivers in this gorgeous part of our land.

Mammoth Hot Springs bubbling hot.

We took the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons route, an excursion that lasted a glorious seven days and six nights. There are two levels of service. Discovery Service (with lunch at your seat) costs $1,579 for single, and $1,229 per person for double occupancy. Big Sky Service (with lunch in the traditional diner) is $1,829 for single, $1,479 per person for double occupancy.

These rates were in effect last August. There are discounts for early booking for these summer tours. So for an update, and to book your tour, visit

Nina and I started in Salt Lake City, where we boarded a motor coach that took us for a night in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then through the awesome Grand Teton National Park.

Millions of trees ravished by fire.

We spent a night in Yellowstone National Park where we explored the geysers (including, of course, Old Faithful) and other geological wonders.

We met up with grizzly bears, buffalo (call them bison), and mountain goats. In Gardiner, Montana, we gazed in amazement at a herd of elk lounging on the front lawn of a motel. What a sight for us eastern city folk!

In Livingston, we toured the historic train depot before boarding the Montana Daylight for the start of the first leg of our rail journey. The first day of rail travel took us through the lush green meadows of the Gallatin Valley and over the Continental Divide. A delicious lunch was served in the elegant dining car.

The train took us over several breathtaking trestles before arriving in Missoula, Montana, where we spent the night. After checking out the town, we went back on board for the final leg of our journey. We went through the heart of the Rockies, through forested landscapes of western Montana and northern Idaho, along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, ending in Sandpoint, Idaho.

We spent the night high above town, at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, a famed ski destination.

Charred trees after forest fire.

This was a thrilling week’s vacation, which we will not soon forget. For us first-time explorers of America’s great Northwest, the experience instilled a newfound pride in the future growth of America.

The staff aboard the motor coach and train were professional tour guides from the local area, well versed in the lore and history of the various places we visited.

We witnessed vast acres of devastation from the forest fires of recent years. The lonely burnt out trees stand sentinel, thousands upon thousands, in vast areas of Wyoming and Montana.

Our guides mentioned that this is one way nature rejuvenates itself. From these wretched charred trees, new healthy specimens will emerge in the coming years, reviving the environment of land and fish.

The Bush administration has enabled the timber industry to salvage the wood from the fires in Bitterroot National Forest in Montana and Idaho, before they rot and crack and lose their value. The U.S. Forest Service intends to sell 44,000 acres of burned timber.

This move has environmental groups up in arms. The Wilderness Society and American Wildlands are concerned with erosion and damage to streams that would result from commercial removal of the trees. They brought the issue to a federal judge to block the sale until a hearing is held. Stay tuned.

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