All Aboard in New Mex­ico!

Catron Courier - - Front Page - by Sam Palah­nuk

Imag­ine climb­ing aboard a coal-fired steam en­gine that will carry you 64 miles through steep moun­tain canyons, high desert and lush mead­ows be­tween the Colorado and New Mex­ico bor­der. Re­lax in the full glory of Vic­to­rian el­e­gance in a par­lor car as you gaze upon un­par­al­leled nat­u­ral beauty.

Ac­cord­ing to the non­profit group, Friends of the Cum­bres & Toltec Senic Rail­road, “This old-west fan­tasy can be­come re­al­ity. Hid­den away in a lit­tle­known cor­ner of the south­ern Rocky Moun­tains on the bor­der of New Mex­ico and Colorado is a pre­cious his­toric ar­ti­fact of the Amer­i­can West that time for­got. Built in 1880 and lit­tle changed since, the Cum­bres & Toltec Scenic Rail­road is the finest and most spec­tac­u­lar ex­am­ple of steam-era moun­tain rail­road­ing in North Amer­ica. Its equip­ment, struc­tures and vast land­scape ex­ist to­day as if frozen in the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury.

The time has long passed when the rail­road last hauled pre­cious me­tals over Cum­bres Pass. But its steam lo­co­mo­tives still la­bor up steep grades car­ry­ing vis­i­tors over high tres­tles, through tun­nels, and along nar­row shelves above yawn­ing gorges...”

The rail line was con­structed in 1881 by the Den­ver and Rio Grande Western Rail­road (D&RGW) as part of their San Juan ex­ten­sion stretch­ing from Alam­osa to Du­rango, Colorado. The line orig­i­nally sup­ported min­ing op­er­a­tions in the San Juan Moun­tains. By the mid 20th cen­tury, the ore traf­fic had dwin­dled but the line con­tin­ued to sup­port agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial op­er­a­tions un­til the 1960s.

In 1968, freight traf­fic was vir­tu­ally gone and the rail­road be­gan the process of aban­don­ing the line. How­ever, Colora-

do and New Mex­ico pur­chased the 64 mile por­tion be­tween An­tonito and Chama in 1970 and be­gan ex­cur­sion ser­vices on the route as the Cum­bres & Toltec Scenic Rail­road.

One re­viewer said “I love this train! It's a fun ex­pe­ri­ence. We did this ride 15 years ago and looked for­ward to com­ing again.”

The views are amaz­ing and the cost in­cludes lunch. The train has room enough to walk around, and the pri­vate car is on the front, with for pho­tos. Ac­cord­ing to re­views, “The Toltec feels like some­one you know pur­chased and re­fur­bished a steam train and has now in­vited you spend the day on it.”

The lunch is also notable, with re­view­ers com­ment­ing it is, “com­fort food, made from scratch…”

There are sev­eral op­tions for rides, with trains leav­ing either from An­tonito, CO or Chama, NM. The trains meet at his­toric Osier, CO for a buf­fet lunch. You can be­gin your full-day trip with a morn­ing mo­tor coach ride along Colorado’s Los Caminos An­tiguos Scenic By­way, and re­turn to your car by train. Or start the day on the train and re­turn to your car via mo­tor coach on a scenic by­way. Fi­nally, you can change trains at Osier, and re­turn to your start­ing point by train.

Wild­fires in south­ern Colorado have not im­pacted the train’s routes or its reg­u­lar op­er­a­tions. The wild­fires have closed the Du­rango Sil­ver­ton Nar­row Gauge Rail­road, so the Cum­bres & Toltec Scenic Rail­road is the only nar­row gauge op­er­at­ing at this time in this area.

The train op­er­ates from May through Oc­to­ber. Fares are around $100 for adults, and half that for chil­dren, but the par­lor car price goes up to around $200. More in­for­ma­tion and tick­ets can be pur­chased at cum­brestoltec.com. Group and char­ter rates are avail­able, and there are dis­counts for mil­i­tary and AARP mem­bers.

It all sounds a per­fect sum­mer get away—and a must-do for train lovers. ◊●◊

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