On The Other Hand
by David Tavel "All Aboard, All Aboard." That was to be a most pleasant invitation on a recent trip which took Yours Truly and his Better Half on a tour of Historic Rails of Colorado. One of the few things which is missing living up here in the high country is the haunting sound of the train whistle. So . . . we headed to where the rails . . . and whistles . . .can be found and heard. A good starting place is the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden which has over seventy locomotives and cars. Fine! Inviting! But we want to go for a ride. So then we head to Georgetown, just south of Interstate 70, to ride on the Georgetown Loop, a railroad constructed originally to haul silver ore. But that was over a century ago. Now it hauls tourists, over such uneven terrain up to Silver Plume that the route spirals over itself. When you're on the upper level of the spiral you are seventy-five feet above the level you just came from. Awesome! Colorado Springs was our next stop, it being well located for a train ride the next morning on the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Destination? The peak Zebulon Pike decided couldn't be climbed. It would be named after him anyway, and would be the source of inspiration for Katherine Porter to write the song which should be our national anthem --- America the Beautiful. Since we are in the area we'll drive through the Garden of the Gods Park with its famous red rock formations. We start our next day on the rails riding through the famous Royal Gorge carved by the Arkansas River. The train runs under the long Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge, the world's highest suspension span, I've been told. The bridge towers 1,000 feet above our open train car. The sun was brightly shining as we left the rails for the roads. The change had its own merits, however, as we followed the river to Salida, headed over Poncha Pass to Alamosa, and the next day traveled to Antonito. Antonito! Way down near the New Mexico border? You betcha, for here we find our longest and highest narrow gauge steam railroad. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs between An- tonito and Chama, New Mexico. En route it crosses back and forth over the state borders eleven times. Its history stretches back into the late 1800s. At that time this was great mining country. Railroads served to bring supplies to the mines and brought back valuable extracted ore. Wait a second! Wait a second! If this was great mining country, why build what has become a tourist railroad through an area full of mine tailings, deforested hills and valleys, and poisoned waterways? Answer: That may be how some imagine former mining areas to look, but it does not fit this area, Just ask someone who has been on the Cumbres and Toltec railroad. It winds and twists through lush green meadows and aspen groves. It goes over 10,015 foot Cumbres Pass. It is a visual delight. Following the Great Depression of the 1930s auto traffic increased, highways became more common, and people relied less on trains. There were plans to tear up the track of the railroad in 1970 but the governors of New Mexico and Colorado had some second thoughts. Their states purchased the 64 winding miles through the mountains, and in June 1971 the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad opened for business. The railroad today is for tourism, for scenery. One can start the trip at either end, and then go all the way or half way, dine, and return Getting hungry? Not to worry. At Osier, long ago a toll station and small community, there's a dining hall. Our train ticket included an "all U can eat" stop here --- a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Go back for seconds, thirds, especially deserts. Stuffed "to the gills" we head to Durango, which means briefly leaving the rails. If a first-timer thought the Cumbres - Toltec ride was "IT," the Durango to Silverton line would leave him speechless. This is THE "It." Riding along high on a mountain side and looking out the train Photos by Marcia Tavel window (or over the side of an open car) at the Animas River far below is something unforgettable. The destination is the once mining center of Silverton. I didn't make note of it at the time, but I believe that even with its shops strictly for tourists, it's your typical mountain town with just one paved street. Our trip included Ouray, which locals pronounce You-ray. Great for fourwheeling and hiking. But neither You nor I can get there by train!
Friday, October 12, 2012