During our trip to Santa Fe last week, we took a day trip to Abiquiu, where we had some excellent green chile cheeseburgers at Body’s, and then drove on up to the Ghost Ranch, and then further north, to Chama. The latter is a nice little town that seems to specialize in tourism, but it has one excellent attraction; it is a terminus of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. A very helpful woman at the visitor information center told us that the train was scheduled to return to Chama at 4 p.m., and suggested we drive a few miles north of town to see it coming through the woods. Since it worked pretty well for our schedule, we decided to take her advice.
The C&T travels between Chama and Antonio, Colo., a distance of 64 miles, through some very scenic territory, including the Cumbres Pass and Toltec Gorge. Although the elevation at the two depots is about 7,800 feet, when the train crosses the Cumbres Pass, it’s over 10,000 feet—the highest pass reached by rail in the United States.
The railroad was built in 1880, and has remained narrow-gauge (three feet between the rails), even though the major railroads long ago converted to the standard four feet, 8-1/2 inches. The line actually has four restored coal-fired steam locomotives.
We drove north out of Chama for about seven miles, and stopped at the first place where the highway crossed the tracks. We were early, but over the next few minutes a half-dozen other cars stopped nearby to wait with us, including some who came from the north and said they’d seen the train further up the line. We waited a while longer, and finally it came into view and passed us.
As anyone who has ever seen a steam locomotive or a steamboat in action knows, the excitement is all in the smoke. When we first saw the train, it was going downhill, meaning there was little smoke or steam in evidence. Still, it was a pretty cool sight. But there were plenty more potential vantage points between that crossing and the Chama depot, so we jumped back in the car and headed south. We sprinted ahead and waited at three or four more spots to see the train before it made it to town, and were rewarded with several nice pictures. Someday, maybe after we move to New Mexico, I’ll go for a ride on this train.