Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Off to Chama

Chama is an old railroad town on the old Denver & Santa Fe system. Now, it is home to the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad narrow gauge line and if you have even the smallest interest in railways, it is somewhere you'll want to visit. It is pretty high up in the Rockies.
Denver, for good reason, is known as the "Mile High City" as it sits around 5000 feet above sea level. You can feel it slightly to the extent that walking up a flight of stairs is like walking up two flights at sea level. We were going to cross a couple of high passes to reach Chama, passes in the region of 10,000 feet. This is the sort of height where simple sandals on the feet take on the weight of diver's boots!

Even in June, there is still plenty of snow on the peaks

Here is the route: The road to Chama 

Even though it was the beginning of June, there was sill snow on the mountains. The roads were quiet; just a few sections carrying traffic and once we reached Highway 17, we pretty much had it to ourselves. This is where life became "interesting". The road climbs into the mountain and by US standards, it is quite narrow. Actually, by European standards, it is quite narrow! There are numerous hairpins with mostly unguarded edges with sheer drops of several hundred feet. But the scenery is spectacular - more green than the Alps, with higher mountains and longer climbs and less traffic.

Then we discovered a little problem with our RV... The windscreen wipers were defective. Nothing serious, but no pressure against the glass, so no cleaning. A call to the rental company came up with a solution: as the passenger side was marginally better than the driver's side, could I find a garage to swap them over? I did it myself later that afternoon with the aid of a borrowed spanner (which I remembered to call a "wrench"). It didn't really fix the problem, but at least it didn't rain again.

Ominous looking clouds as we climb higher into the mountains

Finally, a rest at the top of the Cumbres Pass
Now it is all downhill into Chama and our RV park for three days, Rio Chama. Nestled under a forest of Cottonwood trees between the road and the river with the railway line crossing the river at the edge of the park, it is a cracking location. Our plot is another "pull through", which makes for easy set up and we are shown the way by the site owner who leads us on a golf cart. Everyone wants to come across to chat to us - such friendly people - and the question on everyone's lips... What do we think of Trump?

downtown Chama
We stroll into town, just a few hundred yards to walk, but at 8000 feet it is tough going. We find the railroad depot. I'm like a little boy again. This is like nothing I have ever seen - when the line closed to commercial traffic, it was immediately preserved, so nothing has been lost. Tomorrow, we are taking the trip to Antonito, but for now, I am allowed to wander round on my own while Ann sits in the shade.

The railroad depot at Chama

The yard still has its coaling tower, or tippler. No longer used, it is listed as an Historic Building and in the background you can see the water tower.

The train now arriving...

The Train Ride

We have seats booked in one of the Parlour Cars (First Class) towards the rear of the train. It is an all-day trip with a stop for lunch in a dining hall at Osier. We start with a climb; the gradient runs at about 1 in 25 or 4% to Osier and then descends at a more gentle gradient to Antonito where we shall take a bus back to Chama. Overall, the journey is around 65 miles by rail and around 40 miles back by bus, following the same road as we took the previous day. It helps if you like steam trains as there will now be a few pictures!

We were warned about the weather! Lightweight tee-shirts are in order at the beginning, but by the time the pass at Cumbres is reached, there is still plenty of snow remaining, so sweaters and coats are needed

The lunch stop at Osier. Absolutely in the middle of nowhere, but fresh food for two trainloads is prepared every day. Delicious, too! 


We're still in Bear Territory (keep hearing mutterings of "the Ranger won't like it, Yogi" every night). You expect to see squirrels, prairie dogs and chipmunks, but the surprise was to find humming birds.

 Next, we'll be heading further south to intercept Route 66 in Gallup. That'll be in the next instalment

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