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Trip Report, as promised - RonO's Ramblings

Jul. 22nd, 2004 10:58 am Trip Report, as promised

As a subvacation to our trip this week to visit my parent's in Albuquerque, (who aren't at home until tonight, so we've been house sitting) Tara, Derrick and I spent part of three days in Northern New Mexico, largely so that we could ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.


read my trip report here

Monday, July 19



Around 10:30, after I had run to the west side to get some supplies and maps, we loaded up my parent's van and headed north. Our original plan was to take the new, to me at least, Santa Fe relief route (also known as NM-599 or Veteran's Memorial Highway) around Santa Fe. We expected that there would be some place to get lunch along this stretch of road. We were wrong. When I reached US-84/US-285 North of Santa Fe, I went South back into Santa Fe looking for a place to eat. After finding nothing on St Francis north of Cerrillos, I doubled back up Cerrillos and ended up at the Plaza. Finally, I parked in a city owned garage and we walked, eventually finding a place called Tia Sophias.


Tara and I each had a chicken stuffed sopapilla, mine was "green" and Tara's was "dry." Derrick had a beef taco. After lunch we walked a few blocks along, stopping in a couple of shops, eventually reaching the Plaza proper. Tara continued to shop while Derrick and I walked around and through the plaza trying to burn some of his excess energy.


Finally I went to meet Tara, stopping first at a tourist information booth to get directions back to US-84/US-235. At the tourist information booth, I explained that I was originally from Albuquerque. The woman I was talking with instantly understood why I needed directions, confirming that people from Albuquerque don't often spend time in Santa Fe.


When I met up with Tara, she was in a shop that sells Native American art. I pointed out a Navajo rug with a depiction of modern life on the Reservation, complete with a Pepsi truck driving down a highway. The twenty-something Navajo behind the counter joked with us that they had had Pepsi trucks before the coming of white man.


When we left Santa Fe, I had hoped to stop at the museum run by the Forest Service near Ghost Ranch. Unfortunately, the museum is temporarily closed, and the sign informing people of this is weathered. None of the other museum signs are left. So we ended up driving the rest of the way to Chama without a stop.


We got to Chama and checked into our hotel, the Vista del Rio Lodge. This is a small motel, but it is very new, well kept up, and has not succumbed to the temptation to have "Bed and Breakfast" decor, which I would find incompatible with a wild 7-year-old.


After driving the entire length of Chama, about 3 blocks -- well 3 blocks of downtown and about 2 miles of other businesses along US 64/US 84 and NM 17 -- we had dinner at Viva Veras. The crowd there seemed to be a good mix of locals and tourists, and the food was good; as I would expect in a restaurant that has been run by the same person for over 40 years. I had an enchilada, green, Tara had a Frito Chili Pie -- and was slightly disappointed that they used plain beans instead of a meaty chili -- and Derrick had a hamburger patty. Derrick was not sure, at first, what to do with his bunless patty, and tried to pick it up.


Tuesday July 20



Tuesday dawned clear, and it was very pleasant outside Tuesday morning in Chama. After eating the breakfast provided by the hotel -- perhaps the biggest disappointment in their service, their breakfasts were Sara Lee packaged muffins and small cans of juice -- we left for the train station. When we got there the train was hooked up and just about ready for boarding. I noticed that the train was a "double header," with two engines. After looking around the station a bit, we found our car and boarded. We had to sit about half an hour before the train left. During this time, we all went one car back to the snack and souvenir car.


Finally, just about 10:00, we pulled out of the station. Before we left the conductor, or one of the three docents, explained that this was only the second time the C&TSR had run a double header out of Chama since 2000; the first time having been the previous Thursday. This meant that every road crossing from Chama to the top of Cumbres -- where we would no longer need the helper -- would find the train greeted by a horde of railfans and photographers.


Not too long after leaving Chama, the train stopped just before the Labato tressel. This tressel, one of two high bridges on the line, cannot handle the weight of two steam engines. So they had to uncouple the helper so it could steam over the bridge alone, then the next engine drove across the bridge, pulling the train behind. During this, we were informed that the Labato area was one of the areas along the C&TSR that was used during the filming of Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade.


After the train got moving again we got up so that I could take Derrick back to the open car, and Tara could get something more to drink in the snack car. However, by the time we got to the Snack car, it was clear that Derrick was not going to want to walk all the way back, so I headed back there myself.


From the open car, I was able to take several pictures, many of them in an attempt to get a picture of both engines. I returned shortly after the highway, above the track at this point, crossed the state line. I was back in my seat, however, before the train entered Colorado. We would cross the state line ten more times before the day was over.


We proceeded up to Cumbres, at the top of Cumbres pass. There the helper was decoupled again, and it pulled onto a siding. As the train pulled past, we all waived at the engineer and fireman who drove the engine that allowed us to get up the 4% grade.


While stopped at Cumbres, I took Derrick back to the open car. In the open car he was alternately bored, scared and happily enjoying himself. In addition to enjoying the scenery, I had fun listening to the docent. In addition to telling us about the train and where we were, he explained that when the train opened this year in May, there was still Apache Snow around -- a patch here, and a patch there -- and that the cattle grazing in the forest near the train were Summer Cattle -- summer brown and summer black and summer white.


At tanglefoot curve, a tight switchback where the upper track and lower track are about 20 feet apart, both horizontally and vertically, the train spooked some cattle who were grazing inside the loop. The cattle decided that the best way to get away from the scary train was to run directly in front of the engine. Fortunately, the train was slow enough that the driver was able to stop without hitting any.


It was after this that Derrick was too freaked and we returned to our seats. As it turned out, this was pretty good timing. It was not more than about 10 minutes later when the sky, which had been getting cloudy since we left Cumbres, opened up and dumped rain and hail on the train. We did not mind too much, since the rain would help relieve, but not break, the drought that is plaguing this part of the country.


The train proceeded across the Cascade tressel and into the open, high, part of the Rio Los Piños valley. We wound through the valley, but left it soon for the top and worked our way to Osier (pronounced Osh-er), where we stopped at the dining hall for lunch. I got a large plate of turkey with all of the "fixins," Tara got the pasta and Derrick got a boiled hot dog and some macaroni and cheese. The main courses for lunch were good, but clearly typical mass-produced food. However, the deserts are where the crew at the Osier Kitchen Company knock themselves out.


After lunch, we did a bit of browsing in the gift shop, but Derrick was anxious to get back on the train. I ended up getting a video and the guide to the train trip. We boarded shortly after the "all aboard" whistle, and the train continued on towards Antonito.


After Osier, we headed along the edge of the narrowing Rio Los Piños valley. Before too long the valley was quite a ways below the train. The steep forested sides of the valley were regularly interrupted with vertical dams of rock. Between these, the green of the forest and the haze caused by the rain and clouds the area had a look and feel that strongly reminded me of a setting for a fantasy story. I could almost see an adventuring party exploring the misty forests looking for a lost city or hidden temple.


Near Toltec, the valley had formed itself into a steep sided gorge. Just before entering the Rock Tunnel, we could look down 700 feet into the gorge. Then we were plunged into the complete darkness of the tunnel. Derrick was a bit bothered by the dark.
We continued down, following the gorge, around some more scenery that I cannot describe, and through the second tunnel, Mud Tunnel. (Real rail fans may realize that actually Mud Tunnel is the first tunnel and Rock Tunnel is the second, since the route is measured from Denver through Antonito.)


Gradually, we dropped out of the mountains and from the Alpine zone, featuring tall firs, aspen and pines, into the high desert. At this point the trip got a bit long. Tara started reading and Derrick was showing signs of boredom. Even I found the last 10 or 15 miles across the upper reaches of the San Louis valley a bit repetitive.


It was, however, while crossing this valley that the engine had to do some sort of a flush. Two or thee times, sprays of water were sent from the side of the train, creating temporary rainbows.


By the time we reached Antonito, it was clear and hot. We got off the train and boarded the bus back to Chama. The bus ride was nice, albeit crowded. In a little over an hour, we returned to the station in Chama where we had started the day.


On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the High Country restaurant for dinner. Derrick had yet another hamburger. Tara had a Chicken Fried Steak and I tried, and enjoyed, the Truchas con Pinon -- trout with a pinon nut filled sauce.

Wednesday, July 21



After a somewhat leisurely morning, we left Chama to return to Albuquerque. Near Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch we stopped at Echo Amphitheater. While walking back to the natural amphitheater, we kept finding blue tail lizards. Finally, after missing the first lizard, Derrick saw most of the others. On our return trip, we encountered a large party of kids about Derrick's age who were being escorted from Ghost Ranch by a group of college kids.


We drove on to Santa Fe and had lunch at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Derrick had a black been burrito, Tara had a barbecue sampler and I had their "Smoked Chicken Short Stack," a chicken enchilada. After this we walked around the plaza, enjoying the Chuck Jones gallery and some other shops.


We then got back in the van, and drove back to Albuquerque. Remembering how much traffic and how many lights there were on St. Francis the last time I was in Santa Fe, sixteen years before, I again took advantage of the bypass.

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