All Aboard: This Is What It's Like to Ride a Historic Railroad

  • Engine 487 emerges from Rock Tunnel, aka Toltec Tunnel, at milepost 315.20, 9,276 feet in elevation

    The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

    The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TS) travels between Antonito, Colo. and Chama, N.M., two small towns connected by 64 miles of track that climbs and curves through a grand and ever-changing landscape. Now a National Historic Landmark, this meticulously preserved and restored narrow gauge railroad gives today's riders a glimpse into what it was once like to travel by train in the American West. Workers completed this route into the San Juan Mountains in 1880.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • The Antonito depot is the starting point for westbound trains heading to Chama, New Mexico

    Depart from Antonito, Colorado

    Antonito, Colo., sits at milepost 280.70, the distance it is by rail from Denver, where the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad started in 1870. Today, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is owned not by the D&RG, but by the citizens of Colorado and New Mexico.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Between Memorial Day and leaf season in October, trains leave the Antonito and Chama stations daily at 10 a.m.

    All Aboard!

    Conductors, engine crew, hostesses and brakemen work the trains during daily seasonal excursions. All happily share what they know about the railroad's history and sights passed along the way. Typical is conductor Ray Martinez, third generation of his family to work on the railroad. His son is the fourth.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • From the open gondola car, the sage-covered high desert and mesas can be seen horizon to horizon

    Panoramic Views from the Gondola Car

    Passengers can choose from affordable coach cars, tourist cars with tables or the upscale parlor car as their main seating. But all passengers have access to the open-air gondola car, with its panoramic views of the passing landscapes and expansive western sky.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • This car was carefully renovated with details and decor that reflect the opulence of Victorian-era trains

    Parlor Cars Evoke Victorian-era Train Travel

    Parlor cars, for ages 21 and up only, are the option for passengers who desire a comfy lounge chair, breakfast, snacks, an onboard hostess and wide windows in a beautifully restored railway car. Each guest in these luxury cars also receives a complimentary souvenir. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Lava Tank is no longer functioning but it makes for a scenic photo, about 11 miles southwest of Antonito

    Sights Along the Way: Lava Water Tank

    The landscape out of Antonito starts as sage-brush-covered high desert, but the train has already gained 600 feet, about 50 feet per mile, by the time it reaches Lava Tank at Milepost 291.55. In all it will climb more than 2,000 feet to the high passes of the San Juans.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • One of 11 signs between Chama and Antonito indicating that the border has been crossed again

    You'll Cross the Border More Than Once

    The train crosses the Colorado-New Mexico border 11 times between Chama and Antonito. Look for the border signs and mileposts on the right side of the tracks heading west (Antonito to Chama), on the left side of the tracks heading east (Chama to Antonito).

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Engineer Jeff Stebbins makes sure the C&TS engines don't get too hot and have enough water as they travel the narrow gauge tracks

    Who's in the Engine?

    Engineer Jeff Stebbins aboard Engine 487, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in 1925. The engine consumes four to five tons of coal on each 64-mile run and the tenders hold 5,000 gallons of water. Eastbound trains stop for water once; westbound trains, which climb a 1.5% grade for nearly 50 miles, stop twice.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • The tracks follow the Rio de Los Pinos, River of Pines, for miles on the western portion of the trip

    Through Forests and Valleys

    At times the track is hundreds of feet above Rio de Los Pinos and the backcountry creeks that flow into it. Aspen groves, pine forests, rock canyons, verdant valleys and wild gorges reshape the landscape mile by mile, creating an ever-changing panorama just beyond the train windows.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Members of the National Association of General Passenger and Ticket Agents held a memorial on this spot, September 26, 1881

    Sights Along the Way: President Garfield Memorial

    Not far from Rock Tunnel, the Garfield Monument is at the edge of a deep gorge at milepost 315.32 and part of the fascinating history of the railroad. The monument by a railroad association honors President James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in the Washington, D.C. railroad station in 1881.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Osier is the one place other than the depots where passengers on the daily excursions can get off the train

    Lunch Stop at Osier, Colo.

    Osier, at milepost 318.40 and 9,637 feet, is where westbound and eastbound trains meet and hot lunch is served for all in the dining facility. There's a small gift shop, too. Some passengers switch trains, heading back to their starting point; others continue on, then board motor coaches for the return journey.

    Photo courtesy of Rich Grant/Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

  • Between Chama and Antonito, the train passes over four trestles and through two tunnels

    Breathtaking Trestles & Tunnels

    Cascade Trestle at milepost 319.95 is arguably the most spectacular of several trestles and bridges the train crosses between Antonito and Chama. Built in 1889, Cascade Trestle is 408 feet long and spans tiny Cascade Creek, 137 feet below. Mud Tunnel and Rock Tunnel are the two tunnels along the route.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • It's a steep 4% grade from Cumbers Pass to Chama, meaning for every 100 feet the train moves forward it descends four vertical feet

    Snow Day!

    Cumbres Pass at milepost 330.60 is the highest point on the route at 10,022 feet. This photos shows the pass with snow pelting down in May. Snow can also occur here on fall trips. Between Cumbres Pass and Chama, the train must negotiate a steep 4% grade.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Chama is a sweet little town, well worth exploring before or after riding the train

    Arrive in Chama, New Mexico

    Westbound trains leave Antonito at 10 am and reach Chama at milepost 344.12 at about 4:30 pm. The elevation here is 7,863 feet, 2,159 feet lower than Cumbres Pass, less than 14 miles away. Stay over at Chama Station Inn, across from the depot.

    Photo courtesy of Rich Grant/Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

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