The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is America’s longest (64 miles) and highest (10,015 feet) narrow gauge railroad. Standard gauge means the distance between the rails is 4’8″ where narrow gauge is 3 foot between the rails. Narrow gauge allows tighter turns in the mountains, reducing cost of construction. The engines are run by steam with coal used to heat the fire to create the steam.
The rail line was built heading west out of Antonito, Colorado in 1880 and the construction crews built into Chama, New Mexico on December 31, 1880. The train offered the ability to transport ore, timber, sheep and cattle to new markets and it carried passengers until 1951. The entire line was abandoned in 1967. In 1970 the states of New Mexico and Colorado contracted with nonprofits, Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Inc. and Cumbres Toltec Operating LLC to keep the railroad open as an historic attraction.
Suzanne and I rode it on Sunday October 13, 2019. The train runs from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado and another one runs vice versa. We left Chama by bus at 8:30 am, arrived in Antonito about 9:30 am. We boarded the train in Antonito about 9:45 and rode it to Osier, Colorado where the old train station has been converted to a buffet style restaurant. Osier is where we stopped for lunch at 1:00 pm and left again at 1:45 pm. We had our choice of: meatloaf, turkey and dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes or a salad bar and soup plus dessert and tea or coffee. We got back to Chama about 4:30 pm.
The first 15 miles or so was over relative flat scrub land. Since it was a Sunday many people along the train route drove ATVs or pick-up trucks to come out to see the train go by. Many photographers were set up along the route, also.
At the old Sublette Station we stopped to take on water. As we got further up in the mountains we passed the area where trainee train engineers, brakemen and coal stokers learn and practice their craft, preparing to operate steam engines on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. We proceeded through two tunnels cut through the mountains. One is the Mud Tunnel running 342 feet and the Rock Tunnel bored through 360 feet of rock. At the end of the Rock Tunnel is the Garfield Monument. This monument was erected by the ticket agents of the line in memory of President Garfield who died on September 19, 1881. We were awed by the 600 deep Toltec Gorge. The gorge is 800 feet wide rim to rim.
At times the engineer blows off steam. Setting in the second car behind the engineer I occasionally got blasted with the precipitation of the steam before I could get my window up. I took a picture as this was happening and got a shot of a double rainbow. The aspen trees and scrub oaks and maples were beginning to change color and we could see hints of autumn on the tops of the hills across the gorges.
It was a stunningly beautiful day and not too hot, not too cold. We were thankful for that because none of the cars were heated or air-conditioned. There was an un-roofed observation car where Suzanne spent a good portion of her day. I was happy to just sit and take pictures out my open window. I hope you enjoy these few I am posting.