The First Trip Report

September 30 - October 8, 2006

Written in June 2011


A routine lunch with some co-workers in the summer of 2006 and a Christmas gift from my father a few months earlier set in motion of series of events that proved somewhat life changing. First came the gift, a book entitled "Railroads of Colorado" by Claude Wiatrowski. Prior to reading this, I knew of the Durango & Silverton, the Cumbres & Toltec, and this thing called narrow gauge. After reading the opening chapter in this book I realized that those two railroads had once been connected and part of a much larger system of narrow gauge trackage. Given my passion for abandoned railroads, a major light bulb went off above my head! I simply HAD to visit this area and see this for myself someday. However, Michele and I had only been married for 2 years and were still looking and saving for a house. The time just wasn't right...


Then, later that year while having a lunch at Cafe Adobe, a co-worker friend of mine, Lizz Atnafu, entered all of us into a free vacation giveaway being sponsored by the restaurant. Normally I pay no attention to such things, but Lizz does. About a month later I got a call from the manager at Cafe Adobe informing me that I'd won a trip to Acapulco. I thought she was kidding, I'd forgotten all about Lizz entering us. As it turns out, she wasn't kidding. But, I had absolutely NO desire to visit Acapulco or anywhere else outside the US or Canada (I still don't). So, we worked it out so that I got $2,000 cash to use anywhere I wished. But... where should we go?... what should we do?...


Then, I remembered Colorado and a plan began to materialize. Now, had Michele known what was about to happen to me, I seriously doubt we would have taken that trip. But, neither she nor I had any inkling of what we were about to experience... and the effect it would have on me.


It took a few months of planning and research, but we put things together and on Saturday, September 30, we departed Houston and drove to Amarillo. Our morning started at 0500 that day because we had to play a sunrise gig with the Gulf Coast Sound Drum & Bugle Corps. We finished that around 0800 and headed home to finish packing and get out of town. I believe it was around noon when we finally hit the road, arriving in Amarillo around 2130. The next morning we finished the trip through north Texas to Raton, NM and then up the front range to Denver. Our first glimpse of snow capped mountains near Raton is one of those moments of my life that I'll never forget. I even remember what was playing on the radio and how appropriate it fit the emotions of the moment. This trip would prove to be chock-full of those kinds of moments!

Our first glimpse of the Rockies!

View from our hotel room in Denver


On Day 3 we visited the Colorado Railroad Museum. I remember arriving at the entrance and thinking, "Oh my GAWD! LOOK at all this stuff!!" I was like a kid in a candy store. The hours flew by as I drooled over the equipment and displays. But around noon I could tell that Michele was getting a bit bored, so we visited the first of many gift shops and purchased the first of MANY MANY books, and then made our way over to Georgetown, Colorado to get our first taste of steam in the mountains.


Exploring the Colorado Railroad Museum



This 3-way stub switch was moved off of the Rio Grande Southern in Dolores, CO by

Bob Richardson.


I don't remember now why we skipped over Georgetown, maybe I just missed the exit, but we ended up in Silver Plume just in time to catch C&S #9 bringing in the train. I heard her whistle blow just before she rounded the bend. Hearing that blast and then hearing it echo off the canyon walls was absolutely extraordinary. I remember the chills like it was yesterday.


In what turned out to be a blessing, we were unable to ride the train that day because it was booked solid. This gave me the opportunity to get what will likely be the only video I ever take of C&S #9 under steam. I just wish I had known then what I know now about video recording!



On Day 4 we relocated to Colorado Springs for two nights. Shortly after arriving we made our way over to Seven Falls to break in the new hiking boots. With our lungs full of fresh air, we concluded our visit and headed to Manitou Springs for a trip to the top of Pikes Peak via the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway.


That night we dined at Giuseppe's Old Depot Restaurant. It doesn't get much better than this: great food, great staff, great history, and a spectacular view! And, just outside sits D&RG #168. The only thing that could have made the dining experience more enjoyable is if black and aspen locomotives still rolled along outside the window on the "Joint Line."



Seven Falls


Wildlife at Seven Falls

M&PP #5 in Manitou Springs

Heading up the grade to Pikes Peak

Windy Point Section House


Above timberline


End of the line!

"Fire in the Sky!"

Here's the power for the

 Colorado Springs Local

Even with the UP Patch,

this was a VERY welcomed site!

D&RG #168

Across from Giuseppe's


On Day 5 we made our way from Colorado Springs to Caņon City to ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. We first visited the Royal Gorge in 1994 on a high school band trip to Colorado Springs. I clearly remember seeing K36 #486 there, too! But, I didn't get a chance to see a train go through the gorge and I REALLY wanted to! So, when I heard that now you could RIDE through the gorge I knew we had to do it!


The trip was fantastic. First Class all the way! Very professional staff, tasty grub, and unbeatable scenery.


After the train returned to Caņon City we drove over to the Royal Gorge park for a closer look at the bridge and #486. To my surprise 486 had morphed into 499! I later read that the D&S swapped 499 for 486 so they could have another K36 to operate. The K37 class proved a little too large for the High Line trackage.



The Royal Gorge


The famous "Hanging Bridge"








After returning to Colorado Springs that evening we once again ate at Giuseppe's. That's a great place!


The original plan for Day 6 was to drive to Alamosa and then west to Durango via Chama and Pagosa Jct. I'm VERY happy we didn't try that. There wasn't time for all the exploration (AKA getting lost) that would have ensued. A friend of Michele's suggested that we take Interstate 50 through Gunnison and then over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton and Durango. This is what we decided to do at the last minute. It turned out to be the most memorable day of the trip (at least for me). I had never driven through the mountains like that, although it had been a dream to do so for most of my life. "Discovering" 268 at Gunnison, 278 at Cimarron, the old narrow gauge rolling stock scattered between Montrose and Ridgway, and the Ridgway Railroad Museum are now priceless memories of a very special day spent with my wife. And, of course, the trip over Red Mountain Pass (the Million Dollar Highway) was simply stunning to a couple of sea-level flatlanders like us!


The west end of the

Royal Gorge

The Arkansas River





You don't see this in Texas!



#268 in Gunnison. It would be

5 more years before I could get on the other side of that fence!

The Blue Mesa Reservoir



#278 in Cimarron

This was mind-blowing!

Heading south from Montrose into the Uncompahgre Mountains


We had no idea that the Ridgway Railroad Museum existed! It was a VERY pleasant surprise. And again, it would be 5 long years before I got back for a closer look.



Ouray, CO


The Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass

Driving around Silverton

in the rain

Heading south to Durango

Heading to Silverton the following day on D&S Train 461

Silverton, CO - Being here was a LONG overdue event.

The railroad book I've owned the longest (since childhood) is about the D&S.



Elk Park Siding


The return trip to Durango was anything but routine and it helped solidify my growing fascination with the narrow gauge and the country it runs through. For a full report on "the incident" watch the video.


We got back to our hotel in Durango around midnight. At 0600 we departed and raced east towards Chama. I still wanted to explore Pagosa Jct / Gato, but there was no time that day. It would take 5 more years and 3 more failed attempts to complete that mission. Instead, we took the sedate path through Pagosa Springs.


Arriving in Chama was a strange sensation. I had been reading up on it and studying satellite photos and a few books. But, finally being there... I felt like I'd been there before. It's hard to describe... it was like coming home after being away for many years. I'd never felt anything like that.


Heading west from Antonito.

Ferguson Trestle



Phantom Curve




Mud Tunnel

Switching at Osier


Taking water at Los Pinos Tank


We don't usually get fall colors like this in Texas. We have only 2 seasons here:

1) Not too hot and 2) Oh my gawd it's hot!!

Coal smoke, steam, cool mountain air, and golden aspens.

It just don't get much better than that!


Arriving in Chama



End of Track west of Chama, looking west towards Durango... and history...



The Parlour Car attendant that day was Maureen Schein. She quickly diagnosed my growing affliction of "Narrow Gauge Fever" and did her best to alleviate my symptoms with useful information on the history of the line and the names of locations we passed. She even gave us a personal tour of the Engine House and Machine Shop upon our arrival in Chama. Thank you, Maureen!


Maureen's behavior was typical of all the C&T railroaders we met that day. The down-home hospitality and openness of the people on the C&T solidified my love for this narrow gauge dream-come-true. I've been a devote fan ever since. This website is proof-positive.



Because of our rookie status we didn't know where to stay in Chama that night. As of this writing (June 2011) that has changed considerably. So, we left Chama (against my will) and headed south to Santa Fe for the night. The photos above were taken just south of Chama. They are the punctuation mark on an absolutely incredible trip that fundamentally changed how I spend my free time and may someday even change where we live!


My thanks to my friend, Lizz, for signing me up for that trip at Cafe Abode. It would have been many more years before we made the leap to visit Colorado and New Mexico and look at what we would've missed!!


This Trip Report has a video compendium. Feel free to take a look.



Click here for the Trip Report from my next visit to Narrow Gauge Country.