"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chama, NM: Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad

As I've mentioned, there isn't a whole lot going on in Chama other than the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which runs between that town and Antonito, CO.  Before we got here we had been told that it was well worth the time and money, so on our last day in Chama, we took a full day ride.

We arrived at the historical station in Chama at 9:45 and walked around the railroad yard before were  allowed onto the train.

There are lots of antique train cars in the yard, some look like they haven't been used for a very long time.  Our train was about eight cars long, with an open air car in the middle, accessible to all the passengers. 

After reading the reviews online, we decided to splurge and go first class. (It's a lot more affordable than first class on an airplane!)  We had very comfortable chairs facing the windows, with a little ledge on which to put our refreshments and other things.

We had a very nice hostess who served us a breakfast of fruit, pastries and beverages, and shared interesting information with us as we travelled.  Notice the beautifully restored details of our car. The roof is pressed tin, the woodwork was beautiful cherry and there were several large hanging gas lamps  and sconces.

The first class car is last one on the train because the smell of the smoke, the dust and cinders are supposedly less.  We were able to stand out on the back platform whenever we wanted and the air was usually clean and fresh.  It was a comfortably warm, sunny day, so I for one was out there a lot. It was a perfect place to take pictures.  The train's fireman was also out there most of the time, keeping an eye out for fires that might be started by the sparks from the locomotive.  

The train is pulled by an authentic coal-fired steam engine. That means lots of coal smoke, ash and tiny cinders being spewed all the time, especially when going uphill.  The coal is shoveled into the stove, just like it was originally.

The two plumes of smoke coming from the engine are steam (white) and coal smoke (black).  The train is followed by a fire car that also looks for fires, and is equipped to put them out. 

The train runs on narrow gauge rails, which means there is less space between the two rails. This is kind of train is rare, and so is of great interest to train buffs.  The train travels at a maximum of 22mph, and often travels slower when going up inclines.  At first it seems unbearably slow, but you get used to it.

The other cars are similar to ours, some with small tables, some with bench seats.  I think any of them would have been comfortable and some people might actually prefer the bench seats. 

The cars have no heat and no air conditioning, but all the windows can be opened wide.  Some of the passengers we talked to had ridden this train in October when there was a blizzard and they didn't get back to the station until after midnight. Another time the engine tipped right off the rails while trying to get through the snow. I guess we were fortunate with the weather. 

The train climbs uphill most of the way out of Chama, passing water towers like this one, making wide looping turns to get up the elevation, and going over various trestle bridges.  Because the engine runs on steam, it must have a supply of water to be heated by the coal. So the towers are interspersed along the route in case the tank needs a refill.

The scenery was great, especially in the first half of the trip up to Osier, where we had lunch.  The lunch was a buffet, with the choice of meatloaf, turkey, or soup and salad. It was all very good, especially the coconut custard pie  : )

 In this picture you may be able to see some muddy smudges on the upper window panes. Those are bear prints. It seems that the local bears try to get in to the food through the windows.  I assume they are now some kind of strong plexiglass, because the weight of a bear would certainly break glass windows.

Here's a nice view of a high mountain valley from the back platform. The round wheel you can see in this picture is the break wheel. When going down hill, the fireman on the back puts on the break to keep the train from going too fast or descending out of control.

Here's the Cascade Trestle Bridge - the highest on the route.

This is the Cascade Creek, I think. 

On the second half of the trip the train passes through two tunnels. The first is the Rock Tunnel.

The second tunnel is the Mud Tunnel, and because it passes through mud, it is braced, unlike the Rock Tunnel.

We were fortunate to pass through many areas of peak aspen color.

When we reached the end of the line in Antonito, we said goodbye to the train... 

...and loaded into a modern motor coach for the ride back to Chama, at 60 mph.

Next, the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque!

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