ANTONITO CO & CHAMA NM - As they did in 2017, 2019 and now in 2020, the readers of USA Today have the selected the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSR) as the No. 1 “Best Scenic Train Ride” in the nation. The much coveted award was open to 20 different train trips, all selected by a panel of travel experts and USA Today editors.
“We are absolutely thrilled that the people of America have once again recognized the Cumbres & Toltec as not only the highest, longest and most authentic steam railroad in the nation, but also as the most scenic,” said John Bush, president of the C&TSRR.
Owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, the historic steam railroad built in 1880 runs for 64 miles across the Rocky Mountains, crossing state borders 11 times as it curls across rivers, through tunnels, over trestles and along the lip of canyons. The railroad’s name derives from the fact that at one point it steams over Cumbres Pass (at 10,015, it is the highest point reached by any steam railroad in the nation) and at another it curves along Toltec Gorge, some 600-feet above the roaring river below.
“The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a National Historic Landmark that moves,” Bush said. “We provide a completely authentic look at railroading in the 1880s in one of the most beautiful areas of the Rocky Mountains.”
As it has been for everyone, 2020 has been a challenging year for the historic railroad, but the C&TSRR has met the challenge and recently had its busiest day of the season pulling 18 cars of passengers on Aug. 18, 2020. Typically, the railroad opens its season Memorial Day Weekend with daily trains departing from Chama, NM and Antonito, Colo. This year, the first day of operation was delayed until June 13 and trains have only been able to run out of Antonito. The railroad is still awaiting permission to operate trains out of Chama and hopes to obtain that in time for September runs and the fall changing of the aspens.
Currently, there are departures from Antonito for a full day trip, 6 1/2-hour excursion that includes a delicious hot lunch at beautiful Osier Station. All passengers must wear masks and practice social distancing. The train has added extra open air gondola cars and all windows open so people can spread out and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
In fact, because of COVID-19 safe practices and restrictions, the Cumbres & Toltec is able to offer for the first time a private rail car for the cost of 10 regular-priced adult fares, available until September 11, 2020. In usual times, a group of 10 would only fill up ¼ of a train car, but due to social distancing, now a group of 10 can have the car all to themselves and even add additional passengers for a very reduced fee. “Most of the ride is ‘off the grid’ without cell phone coverage and at a top speed of 12 miles per hour, so it is a wonderful way for families to re-connect, experience beautiful scenery, watch wildlife, and take a ‘time machine’ back to the 1880s to experience what railroading was really like,” Bush said.