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|
|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.