Ever since I was a young child, I remember my Dad setting up his Lionel model trains for Christmas. Thanksgiving would roll around and he would start the whole process. He spent his evenings after work leading up to Christmas down in the basement constructing what would be the best train board ever. I loved to sit and watch him work. He would let me pull out some of the houses and other figurines to decorate the train board.
His love for trains is something has been there throughout my youth. Along with helping with the train board and the Christmas tree train, each child got their very own train he picked out for us when they turned 8. Occasionally, my dad and I would go to train shows together. My Dad would look for more decorative pieces, additional trains for his collection, etc. Needless to say his love for trains was passed onto me. I don’t have a train board in my house, but I do have one under my tree. This is the little thing I can do to pass along the train tradition to my kids. Who by the way, do enjoyed Thomas the Steam train and the Harry Potter Hogwarts Express.
So when Dad asked if we wanted to take a road trip to ride a real steam train, I was all for it. There are a few places you can go to ride a steam train. There is one close to us in Austin, Texas. That was one of the first things we did after moving to San Antonio. It is a fun, half day ride. The train I’d love to share about is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Train in the small town of Chama New Mexico.
There are many different options to choose from on how you want to spend your day on the train. You can choose from half days to full days. You can begin in Chama, New Mexico and ride the train towards Antonito Colorado or vice versa. Check out their website to find all the details. Our day long train journey started in Chama New Mexico where we took a bus to our first train station of the day in Antonito, CO.
Ride Into the Past
We arrived at the Antonito station to see our magnificent, black steam train waiting for its passengers to climb aboard. As we explored the train station, we heard the distinct whistles of the steam train. This signal was our reminder that the train would be leaving in a few short minutes. We walked towards the train and hopped aboard.
“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. The inability to interchange cars with other railroads led the Rio Grande to begin converting its tracks to standard gauge in 1890.” Cumbres Toltec website.
It amazes me this is how they used to get supplies, people, etc through these steep mountains. To see the train and terrain in person and experience it is not like anything else. While you are sitting admiring the beautiful scenery before you, you can’t help but listen to the clickity clack of the steam train on the tracks. The gentle sways and soothing train noise can put anyone to sleep.
New Mexico and Colorado Scenery
Nothing is better than experiencing the majesty of the Toltec Gorge and Chama Valley as experienced through the open air gondola on the Cumbres & Toltec Train. Whether you’re a lover of mountains, streams, wildlife or just a fan of trains and steam engines the Cumbres & Toltec Train is a must-see on any trip to Northern New Mexico/Southern Colorado.
Words can not paint a fair picture of what you will see on this train ride. The journey through the mountains is breathtaking with all the trees, cliffs, and general scenery. The ride starts off in the meadow and slowing climbs the elevation into the mountains. We went through a few tunnels that came out to amazing gorges. My kids loved seeing all the wild antelope, deer, and birds. I would love to go back in the fall to see all the Aspen trees changing colors.
After crossing Cascade Creek Trestle, the highest on the line, the train pulls into Osier, Colorado, for a lunch stop. We were given the option between turkey or meatloaf. Both entrees and sides were pretty good. They also had plenty of options for dessert. This was a nice break to recharge and go to the restroom.
What to Bring
- Camera / Phone with Good Camera
- Camera Batteries or USB Charger for Phone
- Light Backpack to carry stuff in
- Eye Protection (Cinders from Train smoke!) We used our sunglasses
- Raincoat / Windbreaker (summer/spring months)
- Food, drinks, snacks and eye protection are available for sale on the train. You are allowed to bring snacks on the train as well. It was still pretty chilly when we went in June. So, a jacket was necessary for this South Texas family.
Steam Train Whistle Signals
Here are some simple signals to know. I find just having a little understanding of the train made the experience that much better for me. A single period “.” means short horn and a double dash “–” means long horn.
Release brakes: — —
Apply brakes: : .
Approaching Highway crossing: — — . —
Approaching Station/Crossings: —
Warning Whistle: — .
The Cumbres & Toltec Train is perfect for the entire family as it will help build some unforgettable memories with your loved ones this year. It warmed my heart and gave experiences of mountains, history, and adventure that will keep me dreaming until when we could do it again. It should be on your bucket list for your next trip to Southern Colorado & Northern New Mexico.
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