Saturday, April 08, 2006


The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a narrow gauge steam line that was once a part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, this particular part serving the rich mining camps in the San Juan Mountains. It runs from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado, over 64 miles of it's original roadbed. It was jointly purchased by the States of New Mexico and Colorado when the Rio Grande RR decided to scrap it, and now operates as a tourist attraction.

And what an attraction it is! Sixty four miles of true American history, climbing up to an elevation of 10,030 feet, skirting along the edge of thousand-foot deep gorges, chasing mountain lion and bear off the tracks on an almost daily basis. It is a time machine that takes you back over a hundred years to the days of the old west, when the only way to go anywhere was by horseback, stagecoach, or the train.

My family and I made a recent visit (not the first one) to enjoy a day out in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. The below photo is of the double-header (two locomotives) that was scheduled for the days run, the first leg being up the four percent grade from Chama to Cumbres Pass at 10,030 feet.

This shot shows my son checking out the snow plow on engine 487. Our consist on this day were engines 484 and 487, seventeen passenger cars and one gondola. Engine 484 was a "helper" and was to be disconnected from the consist when we reached Cumbres pass. It would then return to Chama for other duties.

Immediately after the crest of Cumbres Pass is "Whiplash Curve", the tightest existing curve in railroading today, a curve where a rider in the rear car can see the locomotive coming at him, going in the opposite direction! At that point, just about everyone is wondering how the train is staying on the track.

We continued along, passing such notable landmarks as the Los Pinos water tank. Yes, a tank becomes a landmark in your mind when you realize that without water from that tank, your engine wouldn't make it, and it's a long walk back to civilization.

This photo is of my son, wife and sister just before departure. We had left our jackets in the car, thinking it would warm up quickly, but it was a bit colder than the photo would indicate, believe me. We decided to go get our coats before we left, and a wise decision it turned out to be, since even during summer, conditions at 10,000 feet can be quite brisk.

The passenger cars you see in this photo are not original rolling stock from Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, but are cars actually built by the employees of the C&TS RR. They did do a great job in recreating period coaches, if you aren't a tickler for details.

Our destination for the day was a small collection of buildings and sheds called Osier. Here we would have what turned out to be a very tasty and filling lunch before heading back for Chama. As you can see from the photo, just about everybody was hungry and totally filled the lunch room.

There is another run the C&TS RR makes from Antonito, Colorado, to Osier. This run lets you see both mud and rock tunnels, but you miss the Toltec Gorge. If you can make only one trip, do the one with the double-headed locomotives. Those two engines hammering their way up that 4 percent grade is a sight to remember, and hard to beat.

One of the last things you see when leaving Osier is this water tank. I know it's just a wooden structure, but I can't help but think that it has had a long and lonely existance for the last hundred years, with nothing but those mostly empty rails for company.

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