Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Chama home of the Combres and Toltec Railroad

May 21- 25, 2015:

Two engines on the lead uphill

It’s roughly 100 miles from the Orilla Verde campsite to Heron Lake State Park mostly on route 64 west.  It was one extreme road climbing up into the snow belt of Carson National Forest to 10,500 foot elevation.  It was a tough climb for the “Hawk”, but the scenery was stunning, the green meadows with the fast flowing streams surrounded by the lush spring green of the Aspens and white pockets of snow.  On three occasions deer ran across the road in front of me to keep me on edge.  

Our destination, Heron Lake State Park is the 2nd largest lake in New Mexico, but at present it seems to be only a quarter filled.  The marina there is actually closed.  It is a “quiet” lake as motor boats can only run at trolling speed and it is a popular fishing spot with record sized Trout and Salmon, so they say ?  There are several campgrounds here, but only a couple for RV’s over 24 feet in length.  We are in the Blanco campground which has spacious campsites with water and electric, a convenient dump station and a hot shower. 

Heron Lake from the Dam

The rain has followed us here, at 6 PM we have thunder, hail and then heavy rain.  Once again I have mud on my shoes !  It has rained every day this week at some point and has been windy and cool, almost cold at times.

I took a hike between rain showers along the Rio Chama River which has an impressive canyon near Lake Huron.

Foot bridge over the river

It's a beautiful river

Twinkles has been on injured reserve for the past week with leg and knee pain and on bed rest today after aggravating the injury yesterday going up the upper RV step.  If this does not heal soon we will be making an unscheduled medical emergency stop shortly.  

I am off exploring the area sights such as the Heron Lake Dam, the nearby towns of Tierra Amarillo, Los Ojos and Chama.  

In this gypsy RV lifestyle you often come upon stuff that wasn’t in the history books when I went to school.  In particular I’ve become aware of the Spanish Land Grants.  In the days of Spanish rule parcels of land were granted to influential individuals or communal groups of people. These land grants once covered vast areas of New Mexico and in this area it was the Tierra Amarillo Land Grant.  As this area went from Spanish to Mexican and then US control, the diplomatic treaties honored the former Spanish land grants.  Initially the land was considered of no value, but as the land became valuable with western expansion the forces of capitalism entered.  Grantees were taken advantage of and driven off their property by often illegal means.  Of course, I would add that the Spanish did not exactly get this land by honorable means either.  It was by all accounts a huge mess, especially when the old Spanish land records stored in Santa Fe were discarded.  Anyhow, the small town of Tierra Amarillo made national news when an armed revolutionary group stormed the Rio Arriba County Courthouse with the intention of taking their land back.  Of course, this coup failed and riding through this poor small town with it’s many old crumbling adobe buildings, compared to the wealthy looking gated ranches nearby, I can understand the frustration that triggered this revolt in the turbulent days of 1967.  

Rio Arribe County Courthouse

Old building with faded references to the revolt

Los Ojos is another old Spanish settlement in a beautiful green valley.  It has a vibrant cottage industry going called Tierra Wools. This area once had about a million grazing sheep and still has a considerable sheep population.  Tierra Wools manufactures top quality wool products using local wool using traditional hand looms at their shop.  They also hold training workshops for keeping these skill alive.  

The church remains the center of Los Os

Front of the Tierra Wools shop

View of quaint Los Ojos from nearby hillside

Chama’s major attraction is the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. The railroad was started in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande as the San Juan extension.  It ceased operation in 1969 but the equipment and buildings were saved by the states of New Mexico and Colorado. It presently runs daily tourist excursion trips from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado.  It is the longest and highest operating narrow gauge steam railroad in the US reaching heights of 10,015 feet at the Cumbres Pass.

Mural on the visitors center

Downtown Chama

View coming into Chama
I get my weekly live music fix on Saturday night at the High Country Restaurant and Saloon listening to a band called Gleewood.  The High Country is definitely the happening spot in Chama with a nice saloon area attached to a restaurant and liquor store. Glenwood seems to have quite a local following and there was a musician with them from Stockholm, Sweden who has a band called Secret Circus.  Initially, I didn’t think the band was so hot, but as the night wore on and they started to “rock it up” a bit more,  they started sounding better and better, or maybe it was the alcohol ?  Anyhow it was a packed bar and an enthusiastic crowd which tends to motivate a bands performance and it was a fun evening. 

The High Country Restaurant and Saloon
Gleewood band

Twinkles and I returned on Sunday for dinner which was excellent and stayed to hear a local favorite musician play for a while afterwards in the Saloon. 

The scenery here is a huge change from the southwestern desert areas we have been in for the past 6 months.  We are in this huge green valley with the snow capped mountains looming in the distance.  These valleys are beautiful with raging small streams flowing through lush green pastures bordered by stately cottonwood trees.  The hillsides are covered with pine and fir trees along with intermittent stands of aspen. The skies are full of huge clouds and when the sun is out the colors are mystical. 

The classic horse scene

View from the road

You can’t come to Chama and not do the Combres and Toltec steam train so on Labor day I did exactly that.  I took the the 64 mile trip from Chama, NM to Antonito, CO by train and then the bus back to Chama. The weather held better than expected with only a few  short periods of rain, sleet and snow, but mostly a mix of sun and clouds.  The scenery is spectacular and this operation is extremely well managed and efficient.  On the trip out of Chama there were hundreds of rail fans along the roadways and crossings with cameras, video and audio equipment, quite entertaining !  The train makes a lunch stop at Osier where they provide a veritable feast of a lunch.  I had the Turkey which was like a Thanksgiving dinner, real roasted Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing with gravy, green beans, rolls, soup, salad bar, several beverages and a desert table. There was a docent on the train who was exceptional with train facts, western history, geology, landscape and other entertaining facts and stories.  A most impressive rail journey by any standards.

The train station

On the open gondola car

We went back and forth between Colorado and New Mexico
several times

Beautiful Aspen groves along the route

Riding on the open vestibule

Sign on rear of car

Lots of maintenance on this line, old ties are everywhere

Number 463 getting a rest at Osier

Next stop is Durango, Colorado;

Twinkles and Slick

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