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Free-flowing drinks and majestic views of the American Rockies: Is this the most spectacular train ride in the world?

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It isn’t the most conventional of hellos.

Out on a boat on the Colorado River, a fisherman waves at us, then turns away, and proceeds to pull down his trousers to expose his (rather large) bottom.

‘We call this Moon River,’ laughs our train guard, explaining that this unusual act is considered a good-natured prank. We have received what the train staff call the ‘Colorado salute’.

Welcome to a journey from Denver, Colorado’s capital, to the town of Moab in Utah, aboard one of America’s most spectacular train rides: the Rocky Mountaineer.

The 370-mile trip takes you though the Rocky Mountains, with bald eagles soaring above and deer darting by the tracks. Rising from desert prairies, you’re soon winding between jagged, snow-dusted peaks and negotiating vast, red-hued canyons.

Cowboy country: Tom Chesshyre experiences Rocky Mountaineer's first US train route. Above, the train trundles through De Beque Canyon in Colorado as it heads towards Utah

Cowboy country: Tom Chesshyre experiences Rocky Mountaineer’s first US train route. Above, the train trundles through De Beque Canyon in Colorado as it heads towards Utah

'Rising from desert prairies, you’re soon winding between jagged, snow-dusted peaks and negotiating vast, red-hued canyons,' writes Tom

‘Rising from desert prairies, you’re soon winding between jagged, snow-dusted peaks and negotiating vast, red-hued canyons,’ writes Tom

Rocky Mountaineer trains began in Canada in 1990, rolling between Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Calgary – and the sumptuous trains, with gourmet meals and smartly dressed staff, proved such a hit that the rail operator branched out two years ago with a US route.

The American journeys operate between mid-April and October, including an overnight stay in the intriguing little town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where the Wild West gunfighting legend Doc Holliday died in 1887.

It makes for one of the greatest train rides anywhere on the planet (let alone just the US). And it isn’t just the scenery that’s appealing.

There’s a lively camaraderie on board, which might have something to do with the free-flowing drinks in the SilverLeaf Plus lounge, where Fats Waller and George Gershwin tunes play on the automatic piano.

‘Ain’t this just wonderful?’ says Sam from Vancouver, who brings me a martini and tells me about the novel he’s writing about the old Wild West.

Debbie, who joins us – also with a martini in hand – is in a dreamy mood as we enter yet another canyon: ‘I just love this ride.’

Rocky Mountaineer trains began in Canada in 1990, rolling between Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Calgary – and the sumptuous trains, with gourmet meals and smartly dressed staff, proved such a hit that the rail operator branched out two years ago with a US route

Rocky Mountaineer trains began in Canada in 1990, rolling between Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Calgary – and the sumptuous trains, with gourmet meals and smartly dressed staff, proved such a hit that the rail operator branched out two years ago with a US route

The train concludes its journey in Moab, Utah, home to Canyonlands National Park (pictured)

The train concludes its journey in Moab, Utah, home to Canyonlands National Park (pictured)

Staff provide commentary from time to time as the train clatters along. The line we are on, we learn, was laid in the 1880s to connect Denver and Salt Lake City.

At one point, we are crossing the Continental Divide, where water either runs off eastwards into Florida’s Gulf or westwards to the Pacific Ocean.

The tracks are operated by Union Pacific, which decides when trains get priority on the sometimes single-line railway.

On occasion, we move into sidings to allow Amtrak’s California Zephyr service to pass.

The trip includes an overnight stay in the town of Glenwood Springs in Colorado (pictured), where the Wild West gunfighting legend Doc Holliday died in 1887

The trip includes an overnight stay in the town of Glenwood Springs in Colorado (pictured), where the Wild West gunfighting legend Doc Holliday died in 1887

The top speed is 60mph, though the average is 35mph. After our night out in Glenwood Springs – with modern-day cowboys in old-style taverns and steaming hot springs (hence its name) – we putter on the next morning through more marvellous ravines.

Little settlements with names like Silt, Rifle and No Name come and go. It really does feel like the back of beyond.

Past old uranium mines being decommissioned, we slowly pull up to the edge of Moab, where the joys of the Arches and Canyonlands national parks await: fantastic red rock scenery with mesas, ravines and spire-shaped formations as far as the eye can see.

The Rocky Mountaineer has lived up to its name – quite gloriously – from beginning to end.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Thirteen-night trips cost from £2,599pp, including a two-day Rocky Mountaineer ride in SilverLeaf class (including meals and some drinks), overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, flights, seven nights’ motorhome hire and five nights in other hotels (trailfinders.com); SilverLeaf Plus price (with all drinks) from £3,149pp. For more information visit colorado.com.

Tom Chesshyre is the author of Ticket To Ride: Around The World On 49 Unusual Train Journeys (Summersdale).

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