Steam through Mountainsides of Aspens during Gorgeous Fall Season
One of the most enjoyable ways to the see the brilliant fall colors of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico is to avoid all the leaf-peeping congested traffic and instead ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSRR), traveling where there are no roads!
Voted three times by the readers of USA Today as the “best scenic train ride in America,” the C&TSRR is also the highest, longest and most authentic steam railroad on the continent. This National Historic Landmark is a museum on wheels, owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico to preserve travel by historic coal-fired steam locomotives just the way it was when the railroad was built in 1880.
In the popular – and often sold out – fall season, the C&TSRR steams through tens of thousands of colorful aspen trees, chugging at a top speed of 12 mph, twisting and turning for 64 miles through Rocky Mountain wilderness. Passengers can ride outdoors in a gondola car, in historic coach cars, or in a luxurious parlor car – steaming along in comfort as the golden aspens gleam in the crisp autumn air.
Trains cross state borders 11 times, steaming through tunnels and over high trestles, along the edge of deep canyons and up to the summit of Cumbres Pass,10,015 feet above sea level. Along the way, passengers can see deer, elk, antelope, and even an occasional bear. All full day rides include a delicious hot lunch at the halfway point of scenic Osier Station.
There are more than two million acres of aspen trees in Colorado and New Mexico — one billion trees that if placed together would cover Rhode Island and Delaware. Aspen trees in the Rocky Mountains grow from 6,500 to 10,500 feet in elevation. Although many factors make leaves turn color, as a general rule, the higher the elevation, the sooner the leaves turn gold. That means that over a period of time, you can often see a variety of shades of color on one mountainside, with deeper golds on top at 10,000 feet, blending to pale yellow in the 8,000 foot range. Since the Cumbres & Toltec runs from 7,863 feet to 10,015 feet at the top of Cumbres Pass, you can expect to see pretty fall aspens in varying shades all along the route – a breathtaking sight that makes a ride on the C&TSRR highly sought after in the fall.
Trains depart from either Chama, NM or Antonito, Colo. There are several trip options, including full and half-day and even a few special departures, including a dinner or brunch train pulled by historic #168 with all historic D&RGW cars, a special geology train and even several departures on the visiting Galloping Goose #5. Fall rides are extremely popular and do sell out, so book early to avoid disappointment at www.cumbrestoltec.com.
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