Wet clouds scud by the high peaks and leave dustings of snow...fair warning of winter just around the corner. Leaves turn the color of a rich man's gold and the breeze is cold on the face. This time of year I always like to ride the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad...

The big steam engine makes that chuffing sound as it leaves the station. Earl Knoob works for the railroad.

"One of the magic things about this railroad, it's still the same railroad it was over 50 years ago. We have the original cars, original locomotives, running on the original track, and if an old locomotive engineer from back in the 1920's ever came back to this Railroad, he would see very much the same thing that he saw when he worked here for the railroad back in the 1920's."

If some old engineer from the turn of the century were to come back and stand along here and watch the train go by, the only thing that would surprise him would be the number of photographers jamming every crossing. And the number of people who willingly stand out in the open rear car to breathe some fresh mountain air mixed with soot and smoke belching from the two engines.

One of the fine parts about this train, even if you aren't a train buff, is the high lonesome wail of the whistle.

Ah, that lonesome whistle blowin'. The mountain valley reverberates with the personal song only each individual engineer can play. High country New Mexico is splashed with the dazzling colors of fall. The air is cool and the scenery slips by at just the right speed. Our train labors up a 4% grade. The firemen in the engines will shovel as much as 3 tons of coal in the hour and a half it takes to top out at Cumbres Pass. On the way back down, later in the day, they will only throw in a few shovels full.

"The Cumbres & Toltec is 64 miles long," says Earl Knoob. "It is the longest and highest steam-powered narrow gauge in the country. These engines have spent their entire life here. Everything is the way it was 50 years ago, and that's one of the very magic parts about this railroad...time has never really changed anything here."

Ah, this is a very different experience from the narrow gauge train at Durango. Here it's cheaper, more personal, and you're more in touch with a sense of the mechanics of railroading. It's a sort of touchy-feely encounter. You come away with a lot more soot and grime, just like they did in the old days.


:The train runs thru October 20, 2002 and can be boarded at either Chama, NM or Antonito Co. There are various ride packages, but I think the best one is from Chama to Osier and back. You can pack your own lunch and picnic at Osier, or buy a hot meal served in a very nice facility at Osier. The engine pulling the train from Antonito picks up your train and pulls it back to Chama. Fall color viewing is best on this route, I believe. The selection of motels and restaurants is much better in Chama, too.

Check with the Railroad about how the colors are looking. They should start changing any time.

Call 1-888-286-2737 for info or visit their website: http://www.cumbrestoltec.com/.