Part 3: Grants, NM to Chama, NM


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The Trip

We left the BLM campground after a good night's sleep and headed into Grant's, NM for a re-supply.  From Grants, we headed north to the Pueblo Pintado ruins and then on to the Heron Lake State Park near Chama, NM.  Our plan was to stay two nights, but we decided to ride the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad steam train to Osier and back.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

During a fuel stop, we spotted another Hi-Lo camper, just like Thor's house.  But, this one was 22 feet long.

We took the highway north from Milan, NM toward Pueblo Pintado.

When we arrived at Pueblo Pintado, we lined up for a group truck photo.

Pueblo Pintado is one of the larger free-standing Anasazi ruins.  Mortar was used to hold the flagstone together to make the walls,  The stone was cut to make smooth edges.

Pueblo Pintado was active in the early AD900s.

Note the mortar between the stones.

The holes in the wall were for timber to support the flooring of the upper levels.  The wood has since decomposed or was stolen for firewood.

Note the linear surfaces of the walls.

The window cap was still intact in this window.  Note that they also attempted to use a cap made of stone in addition to the wood.

In the classic style, the central kiva was circular and recessed into the ground.

John Rak was nice enough to take a photo of me.

The main ruins of Pueblo Pintado were on a hill that had a commanding view of the surrounding territory.  The current theory is that the weather turned against the Anasazi and produced an extended draught, thus starving them out and causing a migration.  Today, the terrain is quite inhospitable and dry.  It is hard to imagine where sufficient food and water would come from for these people under the current environment.

From Pueblo Pintado we continued north toward Heron Lake State Park.  The lake is large, but water levels were low.  It took us quite awhile to find a set of campsites that could accommodate the large number of trucks in our group, but we did succeed.  We had a pleasant night in preparation for our "down day".

Several of us in the group (Mark, Gail, Tony, Bill and Kathleen) decided to check out the steam train ride from Chama to Osier and back.  So, we broke camp and headed into Chama.  The ticketing process was punitive and took 30 minutes.  I assume it was due to the competence level of the clerk, but who can say.  We checked out the rolling stock in the yard prior to departure.

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (CTSRR) runs steam engines from the Denver and Rio Grande Western.  These engines are narrow gauge and designed specifically to operate on the steep narrow grades that are common in the inter-mountain western U.S.  These engines were designed to run on coal, which is quite dirty.  Note the smoke from the front engine.

Most of the complexity of a steam engine is the valving used to control steam flow.  The rods and linkages are part of that valving system.

The mechanism in the center of the photo above is the air compressor.  The pipes to the left are the heat exchanger for the pump allowing the air to cool before going into the reservoir.  I believe this is a two-stage pump which can achieve higher pressures than a single stage pump.

Another one of the steam engines.

The passengers boarded and we set out from the Chama Station.  There is an RV park right next to the station and most of the campers fell out to see the departure.  Note the smoke.  Did I mention that coal-fired steam trains are very dirty?

The area near Chama has very nice, lush meadows that support cattle, deer and elk.

The bridge at Wolf Creek can only support one engine at a time.  Due to the steep grade from Chama to Osier, 2 engines are required.  So due to the load restrictions, the lead helper engine has to de-couple, cross the bridge alone and then re-couple on the far side.

Once we crossed the bridge and re-coupled, we started up the steep grade.  The engines were working hard.

Our speed was slow at at the limit of the output of the engines.  Note the smoke.  We were all coughing before the day was done.

No place to hide from the smoke.  These engines were working at max capacity hauling the passenger cars.

When the track curves, we could get a clear view of the engines.  Note that the lead engine has the CTSRR signage and that the rear engine still says DRGW.  Also, there were a group of cars that shadowed the train from the time it left the station.  Since the road runs close to the tracks, the path allowed many vantage points of the train.

In the rear was an open "observation car" where you had an unobstructed view but also a continuous rain of coal cinders on your head.

The engines worked hard getting up the grade but for whatever reason, the front engine was much dirtier.

As we rounded a bend, we got a clear view of the Chama Valley far below us.

The passenger cars were actual cars from "the day" and with the exception of some new upholstery are exactly as when they were in service.

When we reached Cumbres Pass at just over 10,000 feet elevation, the lead engine decoupled and turned around for a "naked" run back to Chama.  The steep grades are on the Chama side of the pass with the Antonito side requiring only one engine to get to the pass.

When the train hit "Tanglefoot Curve" it had to vent steam for some reason.  It did it several times resulting in huge clouds of spray soaking us in the passenger cars.

There was one good-sized trestle between Cumbres Pass and Osier, our turn-around point.  From Cumbres, it was all downhill to Osier.

Osier is the halfway point (by time) between Antonito and Chama.  The railroad has operated a station there for over a hundred years.  Today, it is converted to a large food service area and gift shop.  We were in Osier about 90 minutes and they fed hundreds of passengers within that short time.  And, surprisingly, the food was good.  In the photo above, the engineer is oiling all the open joints with an oil can.  Some of the joints have oil cups, others were open to the environment.  Frequent lubrication is a must to preserve the equipment.

The badge on this engine states that it was manufactured in 1925.  Note the rough cut marks on the rectangular steel bar at the top left of the photo above.  That pattern is a characteristic of a hand-held oxy-acetylene cutting torch.

Chama-bound passengers were loaded on-board and the train pulled forward a short distance to fill its water tanks.  The large pipe is lowered on a cable to fill the locomotive's reservoir.

Sadly for us, the wind had shifted while we were eating at Osier making the ride back to Chama very smoky indeed.  And that was without the engines working hard on the downhill run from Cumbres pass.  When we arrived back at Chama, we spotted this steam-powered rotary snow plow used to keep the tracks clear during the long winters.

Above is another snow removal device: a side plow.  The blade extends from the side of the car to push the snow away from the tracks.  The shack is the operator's compartment and the tank is for compressed air to actuate the blade.

This is the second time we have ridden the CTSRR and it was just as nice as the first.  The scenery is beautiful and the food was good.  The only down-side is that the trip takes most of the day, so if you are traveling through the area, you need to plan ahead.  You should note that this tour is very popular and advanced tickets are strongly recommended.  We just "on-sited" the tour and notwithstanding the questionable competence of the ticketing person, we had no problem getting seats.

If you are in the Chama, NM area, you should put this on your list of things to do.

Next: over the hump to Pagosa Springs, over Wolf Creek Pass, Slumgullion Pass and into Gunnison, CO.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2016, all rights reserved.
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