Cumbres & Toltec Trains: You Gotta Love Them and Northern New Mexico

Trains: Who doesn’t love them? From your first childhood to your second and third childhoods, trains in trance. Don’t know if it’s the nostalgia of a different time, or the mechanical fascination of, “How do they do that?” If you ever wished to train back into the times of the ole West, wish no further than the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, of Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado. This living National Historic moving Landmark is an experience for tourist seeking just that touch of soft adventure and historic enlightenment.
Offered from May to October, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers daily rides with several classes of travel. You may choose the top end adults only Parlor Car with special food and beverage amenities located at the end of the train, to the Tourist Car, where you can ride in comfort with a table and chair at your command, the open observation car where all classes mingle in the open air with fresh scents of pine and the occasional coal cinder, or the coach class closest to the engine where kids and families mingle.
A walking tour of the rail yard in Chama lets you see the many auxiliary cars and buildings needed when the railroad was at its height of activity in the 1880s, offering services to Colorado’s gold/silver mining camps, and the industries of logging, and livestock of sheep and cattle. But the best experience of all is a day long train ride, either starting from Chama, New Mexico or Antonito, Colorado. With two authentic steam powered trains you can start from either town (bus service provided) or do a half train ride up to the half-way point of Osiers, where lunch is included, and change trains and repeat your morning landscape. There are many specialty train events you may want to schedule your visit around so be sure and check out their website, listed below.
I boarded the new large bus from Chama at 8:30 a.m. arriving in Antonito about an hour later, and hopping on the train bound back to Chama, where I had spent the night and my car was parked. Here is a good time to mention that you need to double check the train ticket you want and the class of service you want several times, as you would with any reservation. I and my ticket was misdirected, and was not what I needed. The problem was cheerfully corrected, but did cause a bit of uncertainty. But after you’re seated in the proper rail car, it’s “All Aboard,” for a relaxing day. You have nothing to do but enjoy the variety of landscapes passing by your window, and venture out on your occasional visit to the open air observation car. At an average speed of only 15 mile per hour, you are traveling at the speed of history, through rolling plains and forested mountain passes. Despite the curse of the Tented Caterpillar which has devastated the Aspen foliage the past two years, one can only image the past glories of a colorful autumnal train ride. Here again is a lesson of travel. Visit as soon as you can to whatever is on your bucket list, as nothing ever stays the same for long with Mother Nature and changing world economies.
After experiencing the many switch backs and loops the train encounters in order to climb the elevations, one marvels at how engineers of another century planned and executed these 64 miles of train track, meandering in and out of Colorado, in just 9 months construction time. You may need pre and post time to reflect on this as well, and I can heartily recommend the Parlor Car Bed And Breakfast for your stay. This cozy cottage is mere seconds away from the Chama rail yard, and the hosts, Bonsall and Wendy Johnson, are charming and informative, being railroad fans themselves, having operated this B & B for 16 years. The three guest rooms come in a variety of décor and the one on the first floor with a hot tub and 5 or more girls. (The girls, being collectible dolls from the owner’s private collection.) My gourmet breakfast of fresh fruit, a spinach quiche, a frosted scone and Ice tea started my departure day off right. As with most B&Bs, the history of its owners adds to your cultural Chama visit, as it did hearing of Bonsall’s veterinarian practice and his docent work with the Friends of the Railroad.
Chama is a train town, and survives on the support of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. As for getting to this gem of Americana, I stayed overnight in Santa Fe at the Hotel Santa Fe, then traveled north towards Chama, stopping off for breakfast at the Abiqui Inn before taking in the O’Keeffe Ghost Ranch tour and the Abiqui house of O’Keeffe. After my Chama stay I drove over to Taos, staying at the Taos Inn for a night before returning through Santa Fe to pick up my plane at the Albuquerque airport. While this sounds like a lot of driving, breaking it up with other points of interests made for a leisurely, scenery packed and economical vacation.
Go, take the train, and let your imagination roll on ~ even pretend you saw the current portrayal of the Lone Ranger and Tonto jump from atop car to car ~ as they do in their current movie