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  1. Default Uncle Bob goes to the mountains!

    I spent a good part of the past two weeks on a couple of vacation road trips and thought I would recount a bit of my adventure for anyone that's interested. The first (week) was a fairly unscripted trip, no reservations and no firm plans, just a rough outline in my mind of where I would go. It didn't go according to plan, but that's the idea anyway.

    My first idea (upon departure) was to head to Chama, New Mexico and ride the narrow gauge steam train to Antonito, Colorado. This train is very similar to the famous Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge in southwestern Colorado, but my opinion after riding both is that the Cumbres and Toltec line is the more spectacular of the two! After the train ride, I would ramble around the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado for a few days, coming down from 10,000 feet only long enough to defrost the ice on the truck occasionally. I'm JOKING, the weather was very nice, almost warm, the entire time I was there. I camped and was never once too cold, and it rained only once or twice.

    I got a late start on Monday, August 2, and drove the most direct route I could from Phoenix, through Kayenta, AZ and Farmington, NM, arriving in Chama about 9:30 PM local time. The first night I got a room in Chama so I could get a quick start in the morning – train time was 0900 for tickets purchased on the platform. It was difficult to find a room in Chama at the time I arrived – most of the innkeepers had turned off the lights and gone to bed by then. But I found a room at the Branding Iron Motel, a very nice place and reasonable for the mountains in tourist season, at $69. Along the drive on the first day, I was joined by a Navajo man for a portion of the ride across the Reservation. He was returning home after a job lay-off in Phoenix (working on the new Cardinals stadium), and was stopping at home, Dinnehotso, for a few days before heading to his new job in Albuquerque. He told me some great stories about climbing the rock formations near Monument Valley and Kayenta as a boy, and the old folks would chase them off by saying those were holy places – he figured they were just trying to keep the boys away from the dangers of rock climbing!

    I was up early for breakfast on Tuesday at the Branding Iron Café in Chama (great breakfast!), then headed over to the depot only to find the train was sold out for that day; reservations well in advance are a great idea for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad!

    I decided to spend my Tuesday morning chasing the train for photo opportunities and this adventure was shared by quite a few other train "buffs." We would race to our vehicles, drive down the highway, find a place where the view of the approaching train lent itself to photographic effort, and wait for the train to approach. Take the photos, jump in the truck, and race off to the next viewpoint! This was easy to do as the train moves very slowly just as trains did in days of olde. My altered plans included about a half day of this pursuit, then I would move on to other things.

    When I arrived at Cumbres Pass about 20 miles north of Chama, the train was chuffing up the 4% grade below. I planned on getting a shot or two of the train pulling into the station there, and then I would head back down toward Tierra Amarilla for a drive in the mountains of northern New Mexico. I waited, and waited, and waited – no train. Couldn't even HEAR the train. Finally, 45 minutes or so later, it came into view around Windy Point, but only pulling three of its ten or so cars. I thought perhaps it had been unable to pull the grade with all the weight, and had left part of the train below for a second trip. In reality, several of the cars had derailed, and the locomotive backed it's way back down the grade after leaving the first three cars at the top. The train crew eventually got those cars re-tracked somehow ("winching" was involved, but I do not have a clear picture of what that entails, totally).

    Meanwhile, I headed south and in a loop from Chama to Tierra Amarilla, over the mountains to Tres Piedras, then north on US285 to Antonito, Colorado. I ate dinner at a nice steakhouse in Antonito (unfortunately I cannot remember the name at present), then headed back over La Manga Pass and Cumbres Pass, to Chama. I saw lots of very beautiful scenery along this route, and recommend it to those who love high mountain country. One of the attractions south of Chama is an outfit at Tierra Amarilla that weaves fine wool southwestern garments – the entire process is done in time-honored ways by local weavers and the garments are very beautiful (see ).

    I spent the second and third nights in Chama, at a private campground. On Wednesday, I rode the train from Antonito to Chama. I'll write more about that day later. Bob

  2. Default Days 2 and 3

    On the second day, I rode the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM. Some days, the C&TSR runs one way, other days, the train runs both ways -- on August 4th, it was one way, Antonito to Chama. The railroad arranges for a motor coach to the station from whatever town the train is NOT running from that day, so I caught the bus at Chama depot at 8:30 AM. After an hour or so ride, with lots of commentary about the highway and rail route which parallels it for a good distance, we arrived at Antonito in time to wander around for a few minutes, and I used the time to take a look at the C&TSR's most venerable locomotive -- No. 463, presently waiting restoration in the Antonito Engine House. Until recently, it had been used on the line and perhaps will be again after a restoration period of several years. Number 463 was built around the turn of the century, and is a "Mikado," the railroading designation for a 2-8-2 locomotive, as are all the narrow gauge engines operated on this line and on the Durango and Silverton line. The engine looks pretty sad at the moment, but perhaps brighter days are ahead if the railroad continues to do well. (Note: "2-8-2" refers to the configuration of the wheels on the engine -- the first number is the number of wheels in front, the middle number is the number of main drive wheels, and the last number refers to the number of wheels following the "drivers.")

    After a quick visit to the Engine House, I boarded the train for the run to Chama. The consist had one open-air observation car, several coaches with large windows (that opened in case you wanted to breathe in the aromas and textures of cinders and smoke), and a snack car as well as a "first class" parlor car for those that paid the extra fare for that privilege. I took my seat and stayed in it most of the day, except for a foray or two to the platform between the cars for photo taking toward the end of the day. Many passengers wished to stay on the open-air car, and it was difficult to find any room to ride there. The halfway point of the ride is the cafeteria at Osier, and the first part of the day has the train climbing slowly out of Antonito and across valleys, and up hills and ridgelines, through two tunnels, and around several compound curves where the train doubles back on itself and you can wave to the engineer as he waves back at you. A small electric car follows the train at a respectful distance, armed with a couple of hands, shovels, water and other equipment to put out the inevitable fires caused by a steam locomotive that burns 2 tons of coal on each 64 mile trip (all hand shoveled by a real fireman). Lunch is served at Osier, and each passenger has a choice of entrees and seconds are encouraged. The lunch is included in the price of the ticket.

    Afternoon, the train wound its way over Cumbres Pass, highest point on the line, and down the 4% grade into Chama by about 4:30 pm or so. Along the way, I saw cowboys and their dogs working a herd, elk and deer, and got to stare down 137 feet to the bottom of the canyon at Cascade Creek, from the train's seemingly precarious perch on the trestle above. Just below Cumbres Pass and station, the line runs around "Windy Point," a mountainside where the rails run on a rock ledge several hundred feet above the valley floor, the grade having been blasted out of the rock sides of the mountain. Once past Windy Point, the engineer does a spectacular "brake check" which results in a jet of steam shooting from the side of the locomotive for 20-30 feet or more to the sides. Then the train slowly moves down the mountain into Chama and the ride is done. In this last stretch of the trip, the crew points out a water tank constructed for an "Indiana Jones" movie filmed there -- in which the hero swings onto a train (or off it) from the water spout. I haven't seen that film lately, but the water tank is still there for you to see, a bit of Hollywood memorabilia in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Ironically, the tank was built for the movie, and has never actually been used by the railroad -- but I guess the "real thing" wasn't picturesque enough!

    I enjoyed this journey more than the Durango and Silverton, although that is no slight to the D&SNG. The scenery along the C&TSR is more expansive, more wide open, and in my mind more spectacular. The Chama to Antonito run is a bit longer. All in all, it was a great day for railroading!

    On Thursday morning, I headed north from Chama to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, South Fork, Lake City and Cimarron by way of Wolf Creek Pass, Spring Creek Pass and Slumgullion Pass. The highway between South Fork and Lake City (through Creede) is particularly beautiful as it runs along the earliest reaches of the great Rio Grande. I had lunch at a hamburger stand (as Gen says, sometimes, nothing but a nice cheeseburger will suffice). One of the highlights of the day was a trip to the top of Lobo Overlook, a 5 mile stretch of dirt road that takes you above Wolf Creek Pass for a look down onto the rooftop of America, also, I encountered a nice rain on the backside of Slumgullion Pass that made the drive into Lake City most interesting.

    After a drive west on US50 from Sapinero, I had dinner in Montrose at the Backwoods Inn, an unbelievably good dinner special with steak, chicken and shrimp for only $12.95, then backtracked about 25 miles and ended the day at Cimmarron, CO at a private campground, with views of the mountains in the distance and millions of stars overhead. If you want to know why I love the west, there's a pretty good description! On Friday, I continued on to Black Canyon National Park and "True Grit" country. Bob

  3. #3

    Default Great reports!

    Keep on posting your field reports, they're always interesting to read:-) I'm following your path on a map.

    Have a nice evening,

  4. Default Thanks, Gen!

    At least we'll have a record of how long it takes to get from one place to another on this route, hey? :)

  5. Default Days 4 & 5

    On Day 4, my plan included a couple of side trips. I have driven past Black Canyon of the Gunnison on many occasions, but had never taken the time to really look at it. So I planned at least a half day there.

    Second, in talking to the campground manager at Cimarron, he mentioned that the movie "True Grit" was filmed along a road that joined US50 just a few feet west of the campground, and wound past some beautiful lakes and ranch country between there and Ridgeway, where the road joined with US550 north of town. I don't know if you've ever seen "True Grit," but the scenery is awesome, and matched only by a great score by Elmer Bernstein. I had to check it out! I have seen the movie enough times that I figured I would recognize landmarks from the film.

    I had a nice ice-chest breakfast in camp -- a hot ham sandwich and some canned fruit (a simple diet on the road is enough, sometimes!), then headed west toward Black Canyon. President Clinton created a national park here in 1998 (I think). The photographs do not do it justice -- the sheerness of the walls, the roar of the water below, and the depth make it a truly remarkable place. While Grand Canyon has remained as unaltered as possible (given the river changes caused by a major hydro-electric project), Black Canyon has dams in place, and a 20th Century tunnel diverts river water to the Montrose Valley a few miles away -- directly through the walls of the Canyon. Before the creation of the tunnel, the valley around Montrose resembled Death Valley more than it did Colorado.

    After visiting the Visitor Center, purchasing a book on Colorado "roadside" history and seeing a few of the overlooks, I drove the road down to the bottom of the canyon to see the river close at hand -- something you can do only on foot or mule at the Grand Canyon itself. I enjoyed the serenity of the flowing water for awhile, then headed back up to a few more overlooks, before leaving the park and driving the short distance to Montrose for lunch. This time, I ate at the truck stop, where one frazzled waitress juggled the needs of 25 or 30 patrons. Seems to me the food tasted pretty good anyway!

    Next adventure was the road through "True Grit" country. It begins in a valley and winds in and around ranch country until it starts to climb into the mountains toward Owl Creek Pass, passing Silver Jack Lake along the way. I didn't specifically recognize anything from the movie, depite the fact I have seen that movie probably more than 30 times. Yes, it's a favorite. I stopped at the lake for some photos, and then drove up and over the pass before descending down to Ridgeway. I did see one place along a river, with a stand of aspen trees where I thought a scene from the movie might have been filmed.

    Up above, I had stopped to take a photo of some cattle as they grazed in a meadow. It was a great picture, and a large butte towering over the scene added to the beauty (the photo is included in my "San Juan Mountains" folder at Without realizing it, I had snapped a photo of the setting for the climactic shoot-out scene in the film! When I got home, True Grit went into the DVD player, and I checked out various scenes for anything that looked familiar. When Rooster Cogburn charges Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang across a meadow, all of them reminiscent of medieval jousters (although Rooster's language wasn't exactly chivalrous), there is that butte towering over the scene! On closer look, I discovered that the meadow I had photographed was THE meadow in the film. And it hasn't changed much, except for the presence of a few cows and the lush grass of Colorado summertime. It still has the creek running across the middle, and a couple of boulders around the edges, just as it did in 1969.

    I went on through Ridgeway, and instead of taking US550, I took the alternate route past Telluride and stopped for the night in Dolores, with a campsite right beside the Dolores River. I shared this campsite with many very hungry mosquitos, but they ate only what I left exposed so all was not lost. My own dinner was memorable that evening, as I ate in a German restaurant in Dolores -- I believe it was called "Old Germany." I had the Jaegerschnitzel, and some authentic strudel for dessert. There are two German establishments in Dolores, and the one where I ate is the PINK one. The other is blue. I was told that the pink one was the best, but the blue was also good. I am in no position to argue!

    On Saturday morning, 8/7 (Day 5), I got an early start, had my oil changed in Cortez, and was home (Phoenix) by about 2:40 in the afternoon! I stayed home long enough to do laundry and repack my gear, then headed off to California for another trip.

  6. #6

    Default Wow!

    pretty interesting... You're on a diet or...just pretending?lol I sure miss all of those truck stops hot-dogs I ate during my trip. It's not very popular around here. Will you post something about your SD trip?:-)I'm trying to keep reading all the stuff posted on the forum, but it's not easy since I started school again.:-((

    Have a great day,
    Gen (studying)

  7. Default Yosemite, Big Sur, and San Diego

    Days 6 through 10 were spent on a road trip with my sister! I spent a couple days at home between the two trips, and got things back together on Tuesday the 10th for what I thought would be a trip to San Diego for several days of beach R&R -- on the way out of town my sis mentioned Yosemite, Big Sur and San Diego -- and it was obvious what SHE wanted to do, so off we went! Of course, I didn't really WANT to go. We spent the first afternoon visiting Oatman, AZ (she'd never been there and I recently discovered it), and the night in Las Vegas.

    Next morning, we left Las Vegas after breakfast and headed north on US95 to Lida Junction, then west to US395 at Big Pine, then north to Lee Vining, where the plan was to take Tioga Pass into Yosemite. We spent the better part of an afternoon exploring the Yosemite area, limited to the areas along the highway -- and I will be the first to tell you I haven't seen Yosemite yet. I need to go back there, and really take some time to explore the park (this was the second time I have raced through it). One can spend days there, as is the case with many of our national parks.

    We spent the night at a camp near Turlock (on what I believe was called Don Pedro Lake), a very peaceful campground set along the lakeshore among rolling hills, with lots of tall, willowy trees for shade. In the morning, we moved on quickly -- this was a "driving" trip, rather than a relaxing one -- and after stops at a little place in Turlock for breakfast, and a fruit market or two in Watsonville, we started down Route 1. The rest of the afternoon was a series of photo and scenery stops along the Big Sur coastline. You can see some of the photos I took of the area at . We continued on to San Diego, arriving at about 11:30 PM (a very long day, almost 500 miles, most of it on slow, two-lane roads).

    On Friday, we spent the day in San Diego -- it was sis's birthday and we went to the dog beach, then out to Point Loma (my favorite San Diego spot) where I got photos of a brand new naval vessel as it entered the bay -- it had not even been "commissioned" yet and I assume it is undergoing sea trials or fitment and crew training. Birthday dinner was at my favorite San Diego eatery -- Vincenzo's in Little Italy (on India Street). Vincenzo's is small, with seating inside and out (sidewalk), and the food and service are excelente! I highly recommend it! (And now, so does my sis!)

    On Saturday, we headed back home to Phoenix. That's the story of my 2004 vacation roadtrip! Of course, I'm already planning the next one -- as the Cunard Line used to say… "Getting there is half the fun!" Bob

  8. Default Hey!

    College woman! Get your nose into those books! You've probably got a quiz coming up soon! Remember, sleep is for ART majors! But if you need help with your geography, be sure to ask, I know some folks that can help! :)


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