It was June of 2015 when I first rolled into Chama with some friends. We were going to ride the old steam train from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado – a 64 mile (103 km) journey.
Chama is a small (very tiny) town in northern New Mexico about 109 miles (175.4 km) southeast of Durango, Colorado. When I say a tiny town, I am not exaggerating. The village has a bit over 1000 residents. Chama lies at 7871 feet (2399 meters) above sea level, so the climate is mild in the summers with cold, snowy winters. It is located in the Brazos Range, a sub range of the San Juan Mountains, which are part of the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountains of North America consist of many smaller sections with their own unique names.
Chama is in a beautiful mountain valley and is the home of the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, a narrow gauge line which was originally part of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. This rail line was at one time the same line as the now more famous Durango to Silverton line in Colorado, which was also part of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. These rail lines were built as narrow gauge to make construction through the numerous mountain passes a bit easier. The track rails are three feet (0.9144 meters) wide, but the cars are about 8 feet wide.
The little town is charming with a couple of decent restaurants. We stayed in an AirBnb house that was over 100 years old. In the downstairs hallway was a picture and story of the original owner of the home who perished while working on the railroad in the early 1900’s. My buddies decided to play a joke on me when we went to bed that first evening there. My bedroom window was open to let in that cool mountain breeze, and my door ended up thumping against the door sill. That woke me up along with some other mysterious sounds.
I was a bit disconcerted and bewildered, but I ended up thinking it was the wind and went back to sleep. Well, in the morning Dave asked me if I had heard any weird noises last night. I replied that I had, and he said that he too had some strange experiences. You know what follows: ghost tales. Dave had me going for a bit, especially after he showed me that story about the home owner dying while working on the train, which I had not noticed until then. We had a good laugh that morning.
After an early breakfast, we headed over to the railroad and checked in for the train ride through the mountains to Antonito, Colorado.
As we boarded the train and got settled into our car, I slowly took in the detailed craftsmanship in this 100 year old passenger car. Notice the tin ceiling and the old lamps near the car roof. I was especially enamored with the little top side lights and the brass luggage racks.
The ride out of Chama is really beautiful, and we were quite lucky as the spring had been really wet. Everything was just lusciously green.
The train continued its journey out of Chama up into the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. In fact, the rail line crosses the Colorado/New Mexico border something like 11 times in its 64 mile journey.
The train continued its climb ever higher, and as we went up, the vegetation changed a bit with more evergreens and open areas.
The Cumbres and Toltec train stopped for lunch at a tiny place known as Osier Station. The rail line has built a large restaurant there, in a cafe/buffet style. When we arrived I have to admit that I wasn’t too excited for buffet type food. But, boy was I wrong. The food was really good – fresh and tasty, and you could have all you wanted. We had a bit of time at the station, so I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring and photography.
After a nice lunch, and some much needed time to stretch the legs, we proceeded onward and upward. Before long we were approaching the Cumbres Pass area, the high point of our journey.
We slowly descended from the pass and onward toward Antonito, Colorado. I will offer a bit of advice here for anyone wishing to take this rail journey. In the flats near Antonito, we encountered swarms of mosquitos, and boy were they hungry. We all got numerous bites as the car windows were open for ventilation. So, my advice is to bring mosquito repellent and apply it prior to approaching the flats near Antonito.
Once we arrived in Antonito, we boarded a bus for a return trip to Chama – about 45 minutes versus over 6 hours on the train.
This was a wonderful experience, and I would love to return to Chama for more exploring. Hopefully, you have enjoyed my story about the Chama experience. Coming soon will be a post or two from my recent trip back to Capitol Reef National Park, which is where I am writing this post.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog, and I would love to know what you think of the Chama adventure. Have fun out there!