This railroad is the longest (67 miles) remaining narrow-gauge railroad in the world. The narrow gauge allows for tighter turns through the mountains. The trip begins in Antonito, Colorado and ends in Chama, New Mexico. Along the way, it crosses the state border 11 times.
We had assigned seats, but once our tickets were punched, we could sit anywhere we wanted. My wife moved over to the left side of the train, which offered better views, and I wandered back and forth from our car to the open observation car to the platforms at the end of the cars.
The first 15 miles or so were through unexciting sagebrush flats, but then we worked our way up on to the mountains. We bought out tickets last spring and tried to pick a weekend when the colors would be at their best. We may have missed the peak by a few days, but we saw a lot of color and aren’t disappointed.
Sublette Station where railroad workers stayed. We stopped long enough to water the engine. In the first photo, you can see it in the distance across the valley.
Mud Tunnel, 342 feet long. It’s shored up by timbers because the ground is porous. I’m pretty sure one of the opening scenes of the movie Bite the Bullet was filmed right here.
Toltec Gorge in the distance.
Rock Tunnel, 360 feet long.
Monument to President Garfield erected by railroad workers shortly after his assassination.
Our ticket was supposed to include a hot buffet lunch at Osier, but supposedly they’d recently “had a fire.” There was no obvious evidence of this, but instead of buffet, we were given a bag lunch in which was a wet (not moist, wet) ham and cheese sandwich and some other stuff. We didn’t get a reduced fair. The stop at Osier took about an hour while we ate and milled around and while the railroad workers switched engines. A second trainload of tourists had come up from Chama that morning. Some people from that train and our returned to the station or origin while others (us included) went on to the end of the line.
There’s a steep grade 4% from Chama to Osier, so they switched engines so the more powerful one would return to Chama and be available to climb the grade the next morning. Our engine was coupled to the the other train and returned to Antonito.
After we left Osier on our way to Chama, we could see the other train on its way to Antonito. I’m always amazed by how dwarfed trains look in the western landscape.
Looking back at Osier after lunch.
There were many cows in the creek valleys. These were accompanied by a large flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds (hanging out on the fence as the train went by).
The valley along this lake was, I’m almost positive, used for many scenes in Bite the Bullet.
Cumbres. The track ran along Route 17 the rest of the way to Chama. The green sign in the background says “Cumbres Pass Summit Elevation 10,022 feet.”
Three views of Windy Point, supposedly famous because the track runs along a shelf carved out of the mountain. The upper cut with the section of trestle, is the railroad. The lower one is Route 17. We drove that rode on our way back to Antonito on the bus.
Lobato Trestle carries the train 100 feet above Wolf Creek.
At one point, I found myself alone on a platform with a conductor. I made the mistake of asking him about his job and got a 15-minute commercial for a train class where participants spend $2,700 for a chance to be a fireman on the engine and be the engineer for about five miles. If the guy was any good at reading body language, he wouldn’t have wasted his time.
When we got to Chama, we immediately boarded a bus to take us back to Antonito. We got the very front seats, which gave us a good view of the mountains as we rode back. The driver cracked corny jokes and told us about stuff along the way. We got back about an hour later than we’d been led to expect. It was a three-and-a-half hour drive home, with a quick stop for a cold Whopper at Burger King in Alamosa.
The train ride was great. I enjoyed it more that Durango Silverton, which goes through more impressive scenery but sticks to the creek side in the valley and so didn’t give long views. Cumbres & Toltec, on the other hand, goes along the ridges or the slopes and gives long views all along the way. Both rides were beautiful, but I prefer this one.