Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Written by on July 19, 2015 in CO Attractions, NM Attractions - Comments Off on Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

What better way to capture the beauty and feel of the Old Southwest than by rail? Before railroads, the only way to get to many areas of the Southwest was by horse, mule or stagecoach — all of which were rather uncomfortable ways to travel. After the construction of the Rio Grande’s San Juan Extension, miners, storeowners and visitors could travel to the silver mining district of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado in relative comfort.

The San Juan Mountains are an extremely rugged and picturesque range in western Colorado, considered by many to have some of the best, most varied scenery anywhere in the world. Spanning the continental divide, the San Juans haves numerous jagged volcanic summits, 13 of which rise to over 14,000 feet, as well as many lakes, waterfalls and streams. Many historic towns and countless relics from the gold and silver mining era of the nineteenth century yet remain in this vast wilderness, which covers 14 counties and encompasses seven wilderness areas — more than 800,000 acres of scenic wonder.

Today, you can make the same journey the first miners and settlers did aboard the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. It’s a fantastic way to capture the beauty, majesty and mystery of the Southern Rocky Mountains, and it’s lots of fun! The train departs from either Chama, New Mexico, or Antonito, Colorado.

Departing from Chama provides an immediate thrill as the train begins to climb almost immediately. You’ll pass the remains of the historic Lobato Sheep Ranch, cross the high trestle bridge over Wolfe Creek and the entire Chama Valley will be spread below you. The train will climb high into the mountains to the Cumbres pass. At 10,015 feet above sea level, it is the highest mountain pass reached by rail in the United States. The train hugs a sheers rock cliff as it reaches the summit and spread below are gorgeous mountain meadows and spectacular mountain vistas.

Many of the mine works and buildings of the original settlers remain standing along the route and you can’t help but wonder what life must have been like in these high altitudes without central heating and plumbing, especially during the harsh winter months.

Heading down from Cumbres Pass offers even more thrills. Tanglefoot Curve is aptly named. The turn is so tight that it seems like the train will bite its own tail. Next is the 137 foot high Cascade Trestle bridge. Then a stop in Osier, a rustic town site, for lunch.

Boarding the train once more in Osier, you will next encounter Toltec Gorge. The high rock walls are so narrow you may feel claustrophobic at times. You’ll enjoy the to two long tunnels, Mud Tunnel and Rock Tunnel, and thrill to the eerie shadows cast by the rock spire at Phantom Curve. Toltec Gorge drops 800 feet straight down below the narrow ledge along which the train creeps. After the gorge, the mountains turn into hills, from which you see magnificent views of the Colorado plains and distant mountain ranges. Then on into flatlands surrounded by mountain peaks in the distance as the train rolls into Antonito.

Besides the normal daily trains, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway offers several special train rides each year. In October, there is a special Fall Colors train. It is a fantastic way to enjoy the Aspens dressed in their fall foliage. The Cinder Bear Christmas Express a couple of times in December. The two and half hour train ride includes appearances from Santa and Cinder Bear along with carols, stories, and treats as the train travels through the snowy landscape of the San Juan Mountains of Northern New Mexico.

You can choose to ride the train in Coach Class (budget friendly), in Tourist Class (more comfortable individual seating) or enjoy the lavish Parlor Class (a level of luxury once reserved for railroad barons and mining kinds). There is also an open-air observation platform if you’d like an unobstructed view of the beauty of the Southwest and a bit of fresh air.

Throughout the trip, the friendly, informative guides will share the history of the countryside you travel through, explain scenic features, and talk about engines and cars on the line as well as the railroad’s past and future. It’ll take you back to the days 125 years ago when the railroad was king of the San Juan Mountains and bring the Southwest to life!

Other attractions in the area include:
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Bandelier National Monument

For additional information, questions or to book a trip feel free to call or go to the website:
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad
Chama Depot: 888-286-2737
Antonito Depot: 877-890-2737

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