My wife and I visited the Cumbres and
Toltec Scenic Railroad when the fall triple header moved out
of Chama and up to Cumbres, just prior to September 11, 2001.
We arrived late in the evening at Chama, and the smoky
coal smell mixed with a moist and cold atmosphere.
As we drove into town, past the old stockyards and over
the turning Y, we came upon the engine facilities and depot.
There stood not one, but three, old narrow gauge steam
locomotives at idle, with their fires banked, but never the
less alive and well. What
a site it was! My
wife laughed as I could hardly contain myself and wanted to
rush right down the hill and be among the real, not model,
Let me tell you a little about this
section of the old Denver and Rio Grande that runs from Chama,
New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado.
First the original railroad was granted a charter to
operate in October 1870. It was planned to run from Denver to El Paso, Texas and also
to extend it rails into Mexico.
The planned route was to go south to Pueblo, through the
Arkansas River Canyon (now the Royal Gorge).
There were to be six branches into the mining fields of
Colorado and even one to Salt Lake City, Utah.
By 1871 the first rails were laid from
Denver to Colorado Springs and reached Pueblo in 1872.
As with most things, money problems delayed plans and
the rails did not reach as far south as La Venta, Colorado,
until 1876. By
this time, the mining operations in Colorado were in full
swing and it was decided to abandon the idea of heading for El
Paso and head for the mining fields instead.
In 1877, the railroad reached almost to Trinidad,
Colorado, and across the Veta Pass to Garland City (now Fort
Garland). In only
8 years, the narrow gauge tracks were laid along the Rio
Grande River near Alamosa and the railroad could finally own
up to its name.
A complete history is available of this
section of the line from Antonito, Colorado, to Chama, New
Mexico, in a book titled Ticket to Toltec, which is a
mile-by-mile study and guide to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic
Railroad. This is
a must for anyone that rides this highly recommended railroad
you can have the engineer, fireman, conductor, and other
locals sign your book to personalize it.
It the book gets a little coal smudge here or there, it
makes it all the more valuable to you.
Now back to our trip.
We boarded the train and had seats in a coach, but we
wandered the train endlessly and visited the open gondolas
regularly. Our train labored up the climb through Labato and finally
making the Cumbres pass in Colorado at a little over 10,000
feet. To give you
an idea of what it is like up there, pilots are required to
put on oxygen above 10,000 feet above sea level!
Once we crested the pass, photographers at nearly every
accessible point met us.
We stopped and uncoupled two engines, which were on a
special excursion and heading back to Chama.
Our train progressed ahead to Los Pinos and arrived at
Osier. At that
location, our train disembarked all passengers and there was a
“eating house” and rest area for the passengers as the
trains watered from the tank and rearranged themselves.
We changed trains to continue on to Antonito.
Our new train progressed through Toltec,
Sublette, Big Horn, Lava, and finally into Antonito.
The scenery was some of the most spectacular that we
have ever seen, and the folks on the train were friendly and
very informative. Once
we arrived in Antonito, we walked to a nearby motel and
checked in. (You
have the option of returning on a bus or taking the train back
the next day.) The
next morning we explored the local railroad yard, looked in
the engine house, checked out the souvenir store, and got on
the train for the ride back.
We returned to Chama and brought back several exposed
rolls of film, memories, and tiny cinders in our hair and
My recommendation of this Scenic Railroad
is the highest I can give for scenery, equipment, attitude,
friendliness, and it has to be regarded as a National
Treasure. If you
only had time to do one narrow gauge trip in Colorado, this is
the one to be on. Give
them a call or hit our link to get the latest running
hard about buying a season pass and becoming a member of the
Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.