Finally, the big day arrived. October 10, 2023, dawned brisk, bright and sunny.
Two tickets to ride!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, New Mexico, a construction camp and crew station built in 1880.
Shortly afterwards, we entered "Mud Tunnel", which is supported by wooden pillars since it passes through soft volcanic ash.
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.
Emerging from Mud Tunnel, we catch our first glimpses of spectacular Toltec Gorge.
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.
The display of autumn color was simply mind-blowing.
I couldn't choose. Here's another one!
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.
The original Osier Depot.
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 —
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.
Fisheye view of the Osier station interior.
Safely back on the correct train and pulling away from Osier.
Top speed here is 5 mph to avoid triggering rock slides.
On the return run, we spent nearly the entire time on the rear platform, chatting with a very knowledgeable and friendly young brakeman.