By Sara Goodnick
Love fall color? Love mountains? How about narrow-gauge train rides? The Cumbres-Toltec narrow gauge scenic train has it all.
I’ve wanted to ride this train for years and finally the opportunity arose. It usually sells out but we bought our tickets far in advance. The train is based out of Chama, New Mexico, but it can be boarded in Antonito, Colorado. Jointly owned by the states of New Mexico and Colorado, it crosses the border eleven times between the two towns.
There are several choices of trip length including a round trip or a bus ride in one of the directions. You can take the train all the way from Chama to Antonito and ride the bus back, or ride the train back after an overnight in Antonito. Or you could do it the other way around. The schedules can change, so checking the website is a good idea.
No matter which trip you take, lunch is part of your ticket at the halfway point in Osier, unless you take the shortest trip offered starting at Cumbres Pass. Osier is an old townsite, and there is nothing else there except the dining building and a small museum. Normally offering a hot lunch, the kitchen had caught on fire a few days before our trip, so it was a nice sack lunch under a big tent for us. The weather was fine, so it wasn’t a problem.
The steepest grade, 4%, is from Chama to Cumbres Pass. The train moves slowly, about 25 mph maximum, and often much slower. There is an open-air gondola as well as enclosed reserved seating offered at different price points. Anyone can go to the gondola, but all must have regular tickets. There were docents on all the cars offering interesting history and facts as we steamed along.
I spent most of my time photographing from the gondola and on the platforms between the cars. It was bumpy and rough, but my camera came through. It has 5-axis stabilization, and I set it for ISO 1250, and shutter priority at 1250. I shot handheld in a few bursts at a time and tried exposure bracketing a few times. I found I only needed the equivalent of 24-70mm and 70-200mm focal lengths. I was amazed that most of them came out sharp.
The next weekend we returned just for more fall color and a little train chasing. That was almost as fun as riding it. There are plenty of places where the train crosses the highway and room for safely photographing it as it passes.
Arizona Highways PhotoScapes is offering a workshop next fall featuring both riding and chasing this train. If you want to get the best photographs with a great instructor, Kerrick James, and have a wonderful time with fellow photographers, be sure to sign up before it sells out!
Sara Goodnick is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes