Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

I didn’t foresee it, I couldn’t have expected it, but as I saw Tim physically relax at the rhythm of the train, eagerly take in the history shared by its docent, and find enchantment in the views of mountains and wildlife, it became apparent that he loved these hours more than any of us.

When I bought our seats on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (another amazing suggestion from my friend), I really only had the children in mind. Between an elaborate Thomas the Train set and an equally elaborate electric train set, both of which we received as a gift from a young man who collected them during his youth and wanted our boys to have them and love them too, our children have enjoyed toy trains for years. Contextually, however, trains have always been toys—fanciful and abstract, but not real. I bought our seats with the hope that our children could finally experience the magic and the reality of trains. In the end, we all experienced it.

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs between Chama, NM, and Antonito, CO, a six-hour journey. Because the train only travels 15 miles per hour, the trips that go fully between Chama and Antonito require a return ride on a bus, and I did not see the kiddos taking to that idea easily, so we chose a route that ran half the distance and allowed us to traverse the route—to and from—on train. We bought the Deluxe Tourist Class seats so the children could have a table to play on along the way and an attendant to help keep them entertained.

The children were calm and peaceful during the six hours we rode from Chama to Osier and back. They had books to read and tiny toy trains to play with (a surprise we gave them as the train took off from the station).

They looked out the window intermittently, and walked up and down the train a bit, crossing gingerly from car to car, but mostly kept to their own activities. Their heads popped up when a herd of sheep blocked the track, when we were challenged to search out the bear cave in the mountainside, when a small herd of elk was ambling by a river side, and when a lone coyote was spotted on a nearby hill. We dragged them out of their chairs to the gondola car when the train crossed a wooden trestle bridge, so they could look over the side to the rushing river below. They jumped eagerly up to see the train “blow down,” releasing steam from its boiler to clear trapped debris. Each time they got up, they knew they could find Tim on the gondola car, taking in every moment he could of the journey and the fresh mountain air.

My great pleasure in the journey came from experiencing the joy of my family and knowing they have experienced a moment of history that is getting harder to access. I love showcasing history and the daily realities of our ancestors for our children, when possible. We live easy lives now—fast lives that demand as much of us as we expect of them. We can drive in one hour what it took six for us to travel on that train. I am so thankful for the access we have to the technology of this day, but want also to appreciate that it hasn’t always been, and doesn’t have to be, like it is today.

As we stepped off the train and settled back into the RV for our 3 1/2 hour trip to Mesa Verde (143 mountain miles away), we decided to put a video on for the kiddos, hoping they’d fall asleep on the road. It was Theo’s turn to choose, and he asked for Thomas the Train. Normally a point of resistance with Julianna and Elijah, who are feeling a bit old for Thomas videos, this time they eagerly agreed.

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