Beaumont Hill, Calif.

Timeless railroading on a historic mountain pass
RELATED TOPICS: UNION PACIFIC | WEST
As Don Sims explained in the August 2003 issue of TRAINS Magazine, Beaumont Hill is a railroader's term, taken from the small town of Beaumont, Calif., very near the 2591-foot summit crest of the former Southern Pacific Sunset Route linking Los Angeles and New Orleans.

While much has changed from author Sims' account of 1950s railroading on Beaumont - including the fact that the railroad is now the Union Pacific rather than the Southern Pacific and urban sprawl has begun encroaching ever more on its rural charm - just as much, if not more, has stayed the same.

Today, as it has been since the line was built, the route is a vital transcontinental link continually feeling the weight of trains throughout the day and night. That alone makes it an area well worth exploring.

Often bypassed by rail enthusiasts on the way to more "exciting" mountain crossings such as Cajon or Tehachapi, the railroad from Thousand Palms on the east to Loma Linda on the west can be not only fun, but easy to get to, explore, and photograph.

Any good AAA or Thomas Brothers map book will be more than sufficient to find everything you need for a day's outing.

Much of the line can be seen and easily followed by traveling on parallel Interstate 10.

If you are heading westward, a good place to start is Cabazon. Almost any off-ramp will set you right by the tracks in this community where you can stock up on fuel for you and your vehicle. Cabazon also boasts a giant - yet nifty - outlet mall for any other needs you might have.

Do not worry if you forget something; you will find plenty of sustenance in other online towns such as Banning and Beaumont. But, it does get warm in the desert, even during the non-summer months, so it is better to overstock than run short, especially if you plan to pick a spot and wait for the trains to come to you.

The older road running parallel to the freeway starts and stops, so you might find yourself getting off and on the Interstate a number of times. Nevertheless, there are plenty of photographic opportunities. As you pass through the almost side-by-side towns of Banning and Beaumont, use on-and off-ramps again to check out potential action. The actual summit is in this area and if you have ever wanted to get one of those "train disappearing over the horizon" shots, this is the place.

Once past Beaumont, the Interstate breaks away from the railroad. Follow San Timoteo Canyon Road for a gently twisting and turning ride that literally hugs the railroad, and affords multiple photographic possibilities. Of the entire route, San Timoteo Canyon is probably the most scenic.

As you continue west on San Timoteo Canyon Road you will eventually arrive near Loma Linda and the start of the massive metropolis that comprises the Southern California urban quagmire. The road and the rails separate here and following the line can get a little tricky.

Should you get a little confused as to your location, Interstate 10 is to the north and will enable you to continue west to San Bernardino and Cajon Pass. East will take you back through Beaumont and Banning, then back toward Cabazon and Palm Springs.

No matter, though, if you choose to turn around and double back. You will have seen the best parts of the line and can now decide where you want to camp out and wait for the parade.

If you have time, remember sunsets and trains are a wonderful combination in this part of the world.
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