Monday, February 28, 2005

05-09 Bonus Report, Chama New Mexico

New Mexico
Week 9 of 52

Bonus: Chama
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Elkhorn Lodge, Cowboy Supper Show

The small town of Chama, Population 1100, in northern New Mexico has two main attractions. The Cumbres and Toltec Railroad and Wiley Jim Pfeiffer. So I treated myself to both.

Saturday night I made reservations to have the dinner and Cowboy show. I had a date before I even got to the show. Ira, a sparkling German who has been in the states for 42 years, asked if she could join me at my table that evening. Ira took my reservations and money. You women are all alike.

For $17.95 we were treated to BBQ Brisket, western beans, baked potato, corn on the cob, cornbread and spice cake for desert and great conversations. You guessed it, the meal was worth the price alone. Melt in your mouth and flavorful brisket. I’d never had it before. We ate under a picnic table shelter next to the Rio Chama River.

After dinner, I was nominated as the deputy sheriff to keep the crowd under control. A young man of about 12 was my assistant. We both got badges. Wiley Jim Pfeiffer performed a medley of true Cowboy songs with the best yodeling I’d ever heard. From ballads to humorous songs like the Wha-Who song. Believe me, you don’t want to loose your wha-who, what would life be without a bit of wha-who in it. he played the guitar, banjo and harmonica. At one point Wiley played an instrumental on the guitar of a Spanish tune, without any picks mind you, and I’d never heard such beautiful music. To watch him manipulate those fingers across those strings was pure delight. We were all spell bound and treated to some fancy “licks“ on the guitar.

The next day I headed back into town for an early breakfast and the train tour. You know I was hesitant about spending the $69.75, but boy am I glad I decided not to miss this treat. The trip included a one way ride on a tour bus to the other end to join the train ride back into town. One of my Escapees buddies warned me it would be cold. So I prepared by wearing my heavy lined winter leather coat. It would come in very hand, thanks Richard.

As a full timer, it’s really nice to have someone else in the drivers seat. Both the bus and train were more than comfortable inside, but you just can’t help going out onto the open train car to feel the fresh air, see the spectacular views unimpeded by windows and feel the coal fired smoke in your face as well as the snow and sleet.. Yes! We actually encountered snow and sleet up in the 10,100 ft elevations! Light though it was, it was quite a surprise.

The saddest thing is that no picture can do justice to the vast panorama’s around every corner. The snow capped mountains, the shear drop off to the valleys below, the thousands of majestic spruce, pines, Douglas Firs and my favorite the Aspen with their distinctive white and black marked bark. The entire trip takes almost 8 hours and includes an unbelievable full meal at lunch time, at about the halfway mark, at the train station called Osier. I had a complete turkey dinner. Yum! The train ride itself covers over 64 miles at a speed ranging from 5 mph to about 15-20 mph. Believe me, on a narrow gauge railroad, you don’t want to travel fast. All of the cars and steam engine are original.

The wildlife we saw was just incredible. Even one of the dosens (sp) said in over 100 rides, he had never seen so much wildlife. The wild elk were my absolute favorite and we saw young elk to majestic large elk with their distinctive white rumps dancing along the mountains and green valleys. One even ran along side the train at a short distance for a short time. Awesome. Just awesome.

I wish my pictures could show the vast vistas I saw. The rivers that flowed unimpeded by dams or reservoirs through one valley into another. with the occasional summer camp, desolate, many miles from civilization, no electricity or phone service out here. These spectacular places were truly off the grid. These are about the only valleys with no towns or gas stations. The land is all National Forest and only the original homesteaders can retain their homes down there.

The grazing pastures are so special, that cattle ranchers send their cattle from far and wide just to graze here in the summer. A cattle ranch in Hawaii sent their cattle here. Talk about summer camp for cattle

Because we were going to take the train back into Chama, we actually began the train ride in Colorado in the small town of Anotonito. If you don’t like isolation, you wouldn’t want to be staying too long in Anotonio. It is in the high desert and is a very very small community. No stores, one church and the train station.

Because the train travels through such mountainous terrain, it curves and switches back on itself many times. We passed in and out of New Mexico and Colorado numerous times. I think over 9 times. It is noted as being the highest elevation tracks of any train in the US. Hmmm, maybe that’s why we encountered snow.

Sure wish I could describe this trip better and do it justice. All I can say is, take a ride on the Cumbres and Toltec and don’t forget to take a heavy winter coat… even in summer! They recommend the fall trips with the incredible changing colors, especially the Aspen.

Side note: The town of Chama is host to a huge bike rally next week. I’ve seen many bikers coming into town this Sunday as I head back to my campground at heron Lake.

Find an adventure. Excite your mind. Create something. Life deserves your participation.

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