The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a
treasure. It attracts us in so many ways and has something to offer
almost anyone. Set in the southern San Juan Mountains of Southern
Colorado and Northern New Mexico, the historic railroad traverses an
amazing variety of terrain from high plains desert, through
transition zones and canyons, to sub-alpine meadows. The train ride
is a delight for anyone who enjoys the high country with up-close
looks at the striking geology, colorful wildflowers, and occasional
glimpses of wildlife. The historian will gain insight into the
development of the Southwest and for the railfan, it is a
one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience railroading in the early
decades of the twentieth century.
The centerpiece of a visit is a ride on the historic train. The
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers a number of trip options
that give the visitor many different ways to take in the area. This
is the ultimate way to experience the C&TS. It is also a great way
to plan your photography of this railroad from trackside. Dramatic
photos of the train have appeared in many publications, and with a
little planning first time visitors can recreate them themselves.
The other "essential" to getting the most of a Cumbres & Toltec
experience is to obtain a copy of Ticket To Toltec by Doris B.
Osterwald. This moderately priced guide to the C&TS provides the
first-time visitor as well as the seasoned veteran with a 128 page
mile-by-mile guide to the railroad, its history, geology, wildlife,
and most important--detailed maps. Even though I've returned to C&TS
country dozens of times over the decades, I wouldn't think of
leaving Ticket To Toltec at home. Get your copy before your train
ride and keep it with you throughout your visit.
This guide to photographing the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is
designed to provide the railfan photographer a full day of taking
photos of the C&TSRR
Begin your day in the Chama yards by arriving there early to watch
the locomotives being prepared for the trip up the mountain to
Cumbres Pass. Steam locomotives must have fires cleaned, water
added, a full tender of coal loaded, and everything inspected before
departing. The Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec have prepared a well
detailed walking tour of the Chama and Antonito yards that will help
you understand the workings of a narrow guage terminal. You can get
a copy at the station or in advance from the Friends. The train
departs at 10:00 a.m., and we'll leave a few minutes prior to set up
for our first action photo.
The photo opportunities listed refer to the maps in Ticket To Toltec
and are more than you can do in a single day. Plan on getting at
least half, and you can take others on the next day or your next
visit. New Mexico Highway 17 parallels the railroad out of town and
becomes Colorado 17 as it takes you to Antonito. Most references are
to this highway and to the railroad mileposts listed on the maps.
They are an excellent way to keep track of where you are. On your
train ride you'll see them as white posts with black numbers, and
you can make notes of locations to visit from trackside later.
343.6 Rio Chama Bridge:
Leave Chama to the north on NM 17; after crossing the tracks,
take a right turn onto the next dirt road and turn around when you
see the two span truss on your right. Walk to the river bank for
several good angles.
MP 343.5 "Jukes Tree":
The best photo angle for this well-known spot is just off the dirt
road halfway back to NM 17.
MP 343.2 Highway 17 Crossing:
This spot is easy and popular with coming and going-away photo
MP 343.0 Broad Spur:
Once the site of a lumbering operation owned by F. W. Broad, you can
shoot across the fields or hike in for a more dramatic angle.
MP 342.0 Entering the Narrows:
Another easy shot where the train comes alongside the highway with
the Chama Valley as a backdrop. The valley here becomes narrow and
V-shaped with the locomotives now working hard on the four percent
MP 341.0 Looking Down the Narrows:
The highway is above the tracks and there are several good views of
the train looking down from the bank of the highway.
MP 340.5 Lake Labato:
Named by railfans for the pond formed by spring snow-melt runoff,
this stop will give you an excellent shot of the train as it leaves
the Narrows and then going away shots as it curves away from you
back into the forest.
MP 340.0 Lobato Siding:
Looking across the meadows from the highway, you view the rain as it
passes the old stockyard and a water tower used for movie sets.
MP 339.8 Lobato Trestle:
The trestle with the mountains as backdrop provide a well-known
going away scene. If the train is double headed, the locomotives are
separated before crossing the 310 foot long trestle and recoupled on
the other side.
MP 339.0 Lobo Lodge:
The train is now across the narrow valley and the hills and distant
mountains make an excellent scene for the laboring train to pass
through on its way to Lobo Lodge.
MP 338.7 Dalton:
The railroad corsses a forest road a short distance from the
highway. Great shots can be made at the crossing or back at the
highway. From here to MP 337.5, the train works hard across an open
meadow that rises from the highway with a number of photos
MP 337.5 Second NM 17 Crossing:
From this popular spot the train comes into view with the Chama
Valley as a backdrop and sweeps in front of you before crossing NM
17. Great going away shots are possible after the train crosses the
highway with the mountains as a backdrop.
MP 337.0 "S Curve":
The train is now below you on your right as it works through the S
curve climbing away toward the mountain.
MP 336.0 State Line Outlook:
Just before entering Colorado, you are now above the railroad again,
and some excellent photo opportunities are possible as the train
comes into view and rounds the curve below you.
MP 335.1 Cresco Tank:
This is one of the more famous photo locations on the line. The
train is working hard up the grade to Cumbres with the watertank as
a backdrop. To get here, drive beyond the road where you spot the
tank below on your right and stop a hundred yards or so ahead at
the pull-off. Start down the hill and you'll notice a well-worn path
that leads down to the tank. When returning to your car, take it
easy as you are now at 9200 feet of elevation and the air is quite
MP 334.0 Hamilton's Point Overlook:
After leaving Cresco, the train is mostly out of view for the next
couple of miles. One dramatic glimpse can be obtained with the train
and distant Chama Valley far below if you look carefully about a
mile after leaving Cresco. Other shots can be obtained by leaving
your car and hiking out from the highway.
MP 332.7 Coxo Crossing:
The railroad crosses CO 17 again and a number of interesting photo
angles are possible. You can also wait here and photograph the train
as it rounds "Windy Point" in the distance above you.
MP 331.2 "Kodak Rock":
This popular spot is a rock formation beside the highway on your
right as you climb below Windy Point, so named for the thousands of
photos made here. You can view the Chama Valley and Coxo Crossing
far below and then turn to see the train pass above as it rounds
Windy Point. Many skip the close-up view of the train at Coxo
Crossing to get the shot here.
MP 330.6 Cumbres Pass:
This is the top of the grade and many shots are possible. The train
winds around Windy Point and will stop for water. If there is a
helper, it will be removed and turned on the wye before returning to
Chama. After taking water, removing the helper and doing an air
test, the train leaves for the long down hill run to Osier and
Antonito. All these activities create scenes for interesting photos.
MP 329.8 Tanglefoot Curve:
Leave your car and walk along the tracks to Tanglefoot Curve. It
will take about 15 minutes, but will give some interesting angles as
the train makes a complete loop before continuing down grade. This
is a particularly good spot to photograph the returning train in
MP 329.0 Tanglefoot Outlook:
Here the railroad rejoins the highway after descending from
Tanglefoot Curve. You can observe the train round Tanglefoot in the
distance and then work downgrade to the highway with a variety of
photos possible. From here to MP 328.0 the train runs close to the
highway with other shots of the train with mountain meadows as
MP 328.0 Apache Canyon Overlook:
Here the state of Colorado has thoughtfully provided a large parking
area where the train passes below, then disappears for a while as it
enters Apache Canyon. You can also look into the distance where the
railroad descends down the Rio de Los Pinos Valley toward Osier.
MP 327.8 Apache Canyon Crossing:
The forest road that leads from the parking area winds down to a
gravel road crossing. Be careful as the crossing is blind, but on
the other side you can get interesting views of the train as it
approaches and then disappears around a rock formation.
MP 325.5 Los Pinos Tank:
This water tank is a landmark along CO 17 as the railroad makes a
180 degree loop and turns down the valley toward Osier. The highway
provides many viewpoints to photograph the train as it passes
through the scene.
MP 325.0 Los Pinos Valley:
This view is best done with a long lense and is shot from the
highway as it climbs out of Los Pinos toward La Manga Pass. The
valley below is beautiful and the now little train is slowly
swallowed into the distance.
At this point the train is no longer accessible, and
you get time for a late picnic lunch, a hike in the woods, or maybe
a chance to plan your afternoon. The train now goes on to the lunch
stop at Osier and will return in a couple of hours. The afternoon
chase is a reverse of the morning run. The train will return from
Osier and make the Los Pinos loop before climbing to Cumbres Pass.
The photo opportunities are the same as the morning, but now the
sun's movement will have created a different set of scenes. Some
that are particularly good in the afternoon light are (24) the Los
Pinos tank, especially if there is a water stop, (23) Apache Canyon
Crossing, and (20) Tanglefoot Curve. If you plan to go to Tanglefoot,
you must leave as soon as the train departs Los Pinos to allow time
for the walk from Cumbres Pass. This one is well worth it and can be
one of the best shots of the day., The down hill run from Cumbres to
Chama has many opportunities, but (17) at Coxo Crossing, (13) "S
Curve" and the arrival into Chama yard are particularly photogenic
in the afternoon sun. Your chase will end around 4:30 p.m., but
you'll still have a chance for some interesting photos as the cars
are switched and the locomotive serviced. It will be sundown or
after by the time things settle down for the night.
You'll be ready for a hearty meal in one of the local restaurants,
perhaps a visit to the shops in town, and then it's time to head to
the The Hotel & Shops located across the street from the railroad
depot in downtown Chama for a good night's sleep. If you must leave,
you'll be able to get a good start in the morning, and if you can,
stay for another day. You'll be well rested and ready to go.