Birthday #70 on the Cumbres & Toltec

October 7-17, 2023

Finally, the big day arrived. October 10, 2023, dawned brisk, bright and sunny.


Two tickets to ride!

birthday girl

The Birthday Girl.


The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was originally constructed in 1880 as part of the Rio Grande's narrow gauge San Juan Extension, which served the silver mining district of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado. Traffic declined in the mid 20th century, and in 1969 the line was abandoned. Railway preservationists and local civic leaders combined forces to preserve the most scenic portion of the line. And in 1971, the Cumbres and Toltec was reborn as a tourist train.

The C&TS travels 64 miles between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado. It crosses the borders of Colorado and New Mexico 10 times as it chugs its way up from the San Luis Valley more than 1700 feet to a historic station in Osier, Colorado, at an elevation of 9635 feet.

brass lamp

The parlor car, with faux tin ceilings, brass lamps and seats facing out.


And then we were rolling. Or, to be more precise, rumbling. A short distance from the station, we spotted a herd of pronghorns.

red aspens

As we left the plains behind and climbed into the San Juans, brilliant fall colors emerged. I was intrigued by the shades of red, that were mixed in with what appeared to be aspen trees. I heard someone call them "red aspens", and sure enough, some aspen trees can turn red, based on both genes and seasonal conditions.

train rolling through the aspens

We were incredibly lucky to catch the fall colors at their absolute peak. Despite our cushy parlor car seats, we spent most of our time in the open-air cattle car, or on the rear platform.

engine 463

Our engine, Locomotive #463, was built in 1903, and returned to operation in 2013. It guzzles approximately 7500 gallons of water on its climb to the lunch stop in Osier.

rounding a bend

Dennis didn't believe that the engine was an actual coal-fired locomotive, and not a diesel. The cinders raining down on our white heads were a pretty good indication.

approaching Sublette

Approaching Sublette, New Mexico, a construction camp and crew station built in 1880.

Mud Tunnel - entering

Shortly afterwards, we entered "Mud Tunnel", which is supported by wooden pillars since it passes through soft volcanic ash.

Mud Tunnel - leaving

When the beams in the tunnel collapsed, the D&RGW built a temporary bypass to allow passengers and small cars to be moved around the tunnel to another train.

Toltec Gorge

Emerging from Mud Tunnel, we catch our first glimpses of spectacular Toltec Gorge.



Rock Tunnel

Rock Tunnel is bored through 360 feet of solid rock. This section follows a narrow rock ledge approximately 600 feet above the Rio do Los Piños. A sign urges passengers not to throw any rocks in the GORGE as FISHERMEN are liable to be BELOW.

aspen-covered hillside #1

The display of autumn color was simply mind-blowing.

aspen-covered hillside #2

I couldn't choose. Here's another one!

Oser water tank

In Osier, Colorado, we stop for lunch, and trains from Chama and Antonito switch cars for their return trip to the station of origin. Osier was built as a construction camp on the D&RGW's San Juan Extension. The siding, depot, section house, stock pens, coaling dock and water tank have survived down to the present day. The water tank is the original 50,000-gallon unit installed on the site in 1880.

Osier depot

The original Osier Depot.

Osier depot interior

Here, I nearly made a disastrous error. For some reason, I thought we were going all the way through to Chama and back, although it should have been obvious that with a top speed of 12 mph (and generally much slower), the train could not make the 64-mile run to Chama and back in one day. As we pondered the tickets — which looked exactly like our tickets — held by the couple in "our" seats, the wheels began to turn, ever so slowly. We made a mad dash for the other train minutes before the train bound for Chama pulled out of the station. Had we stayed aboard, we would have been stuck in Chama overnight — or longer — while our cats weathered a freezing night in an RV in the parking lot in Antonito.

Osier depot interior fisheye

Fisheye view of the Osier station interior.


Safely back on the correct train and pulling away from Osier.

rock cut

Top speed here is 5 mph to avoid triggering rock slides.

Dennis chatting with the brakeman

On the return run, we spent nearly the entire time on the rear platform, chatting with a very knowledgeable and friendly young brakeman.

Contemplating Toltec Gorge

Contemplating Toltec Gorge.


Fisheye from the rear platform.

more golden aspens

More golden goodness.

Reentering Rock Tunnel

Reentering Rock Tunnel.

Cumbres & Toltec: The Movie

Previous Next