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Riding the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

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Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Restored Vintage Steam Engine at Osier Stop

©Elizabeth R. Rose

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Basics:

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a vintage steam locomotive driven excursion train leaving either from Antonito, Colorado or Chama, New Mexico. You will journey back in time through spectacular mountains, canyons and valleys.

Address for Antonito Depot: 5234 B Hwy 285, Antonito, CO 81120
Address for Chama Depot: 500 Terrace Drive, Chama, NM 87520
Maps
Railroad Phone Number for Reservations:1-888-CUMBRES
Cumbres & Toltec Website

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad History:

The railroad is a living history museum which travels a narrow guage (3 feet wide) railroad line bulit in the late 1800's. The trains are pulled by historic steam engines. Before roads linked the towns of the Rocky Mountains, steam engines carried passengers and goods from town to town. The railroad is designated both a National and State Registered Historic Site and National Civil Engineering Landmark. As you travel, docents will point out historic sites and natural wonders.

Excursions and Pricing:

Yes, you will need a reservation and yes, you need to decide on the excursion that will best meet your needs. If you are coming from, say, the Denver Airport, start your travel in Antonito, Colorado. And, if you fly into Albuquerque, for example, head north and take your trip from Chama. The railway offers a one way bus trip option so that you travel half the route via train and half the route via bus.(most economical).

Season:

It snows in the high country so the season is rather short. the 2009 Season begins Memorial weekend, May 23 and will run through October 18, 2009, as an example. However, watch for seasonal trips such as the early December Cinder Bear Christmas Express. Now, that would be magical!

What You Will See:

This is truly a scenic railroad trip. Some of the highlights as we traveled from Chama to Antonito were:
  • Photographing the engine as we went over a tall trestle
  • Reaching the 10,015 ft. summit at Cumbres
  • Watching as the engine took on water at a water tower stop
  • Marveling at the depth of Toltec Gorge
  • Riding through the awesome Aspens
  • Looking down (way down) at cattle enjoying a watering hole in the valley
  • Learning from the docent who kept us informed of points of interest and stories along the way
Train Trip Photo Gallery.

Meals and Snacks:

You can bring your own snacks and water on board. There is also a canteen car. The lunch stop at Osier is well organized and you will be offered such choices as turkey dinner, meatloaf dinner or salad bar. The cafeteria type line moves along quickly and you eat a long picnic tables. Don't look for wine or beer.

Parlour Car or Regular Car:

In the parlour cars you will be seated with about 20 people. In the regular cars, expect to join many more, including families. If you tend to want things a bit more comfy and quiet, spring for a parlour car ticket. Both classes of car can access the open air viewing car.

Tips:

I found out a couple of things along the way:
  • Be sure and make a reservation
  • Expect a bit of cinders and soot, especially if you ride behind the engine
  • Layer your clothing as you may be sitting in the sun one moment and enjoying the chilly winds in the open air car the next
  • Dont' be afraid to ask the docents questions. They love their railroad and enjoy sharing it with you
  • Expect a big meal at the noon lunch stop

Supporting the Historic Railroad:

You will see docents and volunteers all over the railyard. The "Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Rail Road" number about 2,000 railroad supporters from all over the world. They volunteer for and raise funds for railroad restoration. Consider a donation or a membership. They are a registered non-profit organization. Here is their website.

Review and Recommendations:

We took an all day excusion starting in Chama and ending in Antonito, Colorado. We stayed at Elkhorn Lodge at Chama in little cabins and had an excellent meal at the High Country Restaurant & Saloon.

We went to the depot early to spend a bit of time looking around. There is a walking tour of the depot and opportunities to photograph the beautiful old steam engine.

Soon, it was time to take our seats. The joy of this trip was that it was leisurely. We traveled back in time and through several eco-systems. We went past prairies, headed up into the mountains, through tunnels, across trestles and stopped at Osier for lunch. It was rather high at that point. After lunch and a few photo ops with the engines, we continued on to Antonito. I loved this part as we got to see the deep Toltec Gorge. The last part of the trip as we headed in to Antonito wasn't quite as exciting - just sagebrush and desert flowers.

The trip we chose would be too long for small children. Unlike some railroad tours, Cumbres & Toltec doesn't offer a bar car, entertainment or a train robbery. What they offer is pure natural beauty which any adult will enjoy. Be sure and bring your camera and an extra card (we used to say lot's of film!) and be prepared for the scenic ride of a lifetime.

While there are glories at any season, we went in Fall and had the most spectacular showing of golden aspens I have ever experienced. Timing is everything in this case and reservations are a must.

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