CHAMA, N.M. and ANTONITO, Colo. — One of the best ways to the enjoy the brilliant fall colors of the Rocky Mountains is by riding the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
As the longest, highest and most authentic steam railroad in America, the C&TSRR goes where no roads go, twisting and turning for 64 miles through Rocky Mountain wilderness between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico, crossing the state border 11 times. The train chugs along at a top speed of just 14 mph, steaming through tunnels and over high trestles, as it passes through tens of thousands of colorful aspen trees. Along the way, passengers can see deer, elk, antelope and even an occasional bear. All full-day rides include a delicious hot lunch at scenic Osier Station.
Once ridden by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and most of the famous figures of the Old West, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was built in 1880 and today it is a moving National Historic Landmark — a “Williamsburg on wheels” — that re-creates the magic of the glory era of steam railroading. It was judged by the readers of USA Today’s 10Best to be the best train ride in America.
While the ride is spectacular at any time, it is especially gorgeous in the fall when the aspens put on their annual show. There are more than 2 million acres of aspen trees in Colorado and New Mexico — 1 billion trees that if placed together would cover Rhode Island and Delaware. Aspen trees in the Rocky Mountains grow from 6,500 to 10,500 feet in elevation. Although many factors make leaves turn color, as a general rule, the higher the elevation, the sooner the leaves turn gold. That means that over a period of time, passengers can often see a variety of shades of color on one mountainside, with deeper golds on top at 10,000 feet, blending to pale yellow in the 8,000 foot range. Since the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad runs from 6,800 feet to 10,015 feet at the top of Cumbres Pass, passengers can expect to see varying colors of fall aspens all along the route.
Rocky Mountain aspen leaves don’t just turn color in the fall, they positively glow a bright luminescent yellow gold, almost as if they had their own light source. The leaves are small, delicate and tissue-thin with an aerodynamic shape that keep them in perpetual motion. Even a slight breeze sends every leaf on the tree shimmering.
In addition to daily departures through Oct. 21, there are two special dinner trains. The dinner specials offer a chance to experience sunset from the outdoor observation gondola car, as well as a steak or chicken dinner served almost two miles above sea level.
Sept. 15, Saturday Night Dinner & Murder Mystery Train, circa 1939 France. Romantic music, a talented cast of vintage characters and dinner will complete the evening. Join in on the fun and come dressed in a Pre-WWII Parisian costume for the intriguing plot and optional costume contest with prizes.
Oct. 13, Speakeasy Saturday Night Dinner Train. A highlight of the year, the train becomes one big speakeasy with dinner, gin from garter belts and jazz from the Roaring 20s. Many come dressed in Prohibition speakeasy attire. The secret word will be given to ticket holders at check-in.
Fall rides are extremely popular and do sell out, so book early to avoid disappointment at cumbrestoltec.com