Railway Magazine to Colorado - 30 August to 13 September 2008
Ride the Durango - Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec
See the best of the BIG trains – Union Pacific on Sherman Hill and Moffat
See the best of the BIG trains – BNSF on the Joint Line
By rail to 14,000feet – Pikes Peak!
All the scenic and retail attractions of Colorado
Saturday 30 August
We leave Britain today for the flight via Chicago to Denver. There are flights from either London Heathrow or Manchester via Chicago. Arrival in Denver will be in the early evening, and we’ll be taken to our base for the next few days, the Motel 6 at Wheat Ridge, a suburb of Denver
Sunday 31 August
Today sees our first foray into the Rockies. We’ll head up to Moffat tunnel, calling at Blue Mountain, Pinecliffe, Rollins (for the icefields and the world’s smallest Tesco) and some wonderful views of the Moffat tunnel itself. We should be able to photograph the daily Amtrak ‘California Zephyr’ somewhere on this stretch. We’ll go a little way up the old Rollins Pass route, which reached 11,160 ft and was a nightmare to work – hence the Moffat tunnel, completed in 1929. We’ll return to the Denver suburbs for the night.
Monday 1 September
After breakfast, we visit the Colorado Railway Museum at Golden, with plenty of steam and diesel locomotives, both standard and narrow gauge to see. Then it’s the Joint Line. This heads south from Denver is jointly owned by the two big rail companies in the West – Union Pacific and BNSF (as successors to the Denver and Rio Grande Western, and the Burlington Northern). We can expect to see coal trains – 15,000 tons with three locomotives, all working flat out going south. There are some beautiful spots for photography (with a compulsory stop at Castle Rock for cinnamon buns like you’ve never tasted before), and we’ll head south to spend the night at Colorado Springs – the recommended restaurant here is Giuseppe’s – it was the railway station, but now serves an awesome meals.
Tuesday 2 September
A short road journey takes us to Manitou Springs for a train trip to the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,100 feet – the views from here are fantastic. The line uses Swiss-built diesel units running on a rack line, much like the Snowdon Mountain Railway. The afternoon will bring a short excursion to the American Air Force Training Academy close to Cheyenne Mountain.
Wednesday 3 September.
A short journey west to Cripple Creek has us back a century or so, with this small line giving us a 45 minute ride through this old gold-mining district. We then head south down the dirt road that was once the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad, and arrive at the Royal Gorge Railroad for a ride through the Gorge with its famous ‘hanging bridge’ behind an old E unit GM diesel. In the late afternoon, we’ll take the long drive towards Antonito ready for the next day’s Cumbres & Toltec trip We’ll stop for the night in Alamosa.
Thursday 4 September
Today, we’ll take a ride on Colorado’s newest steam operation, the La Veta Pass route on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Steam takes us from Alamosa station up to the summit of the pass with some incredible S-curves. The loco should be the ex-Southern Pacific Baldwin 1744.
Friday 5 September
A full day out on the Cumbres and Toltec Railway, Our steam-hauled train leaves Antonito at 10:00 and runs behind steam over the San Juan mountains to Chama via the fabulous Tanglefoot Curve and Windy Point, over the summit at 10,000 feet. We’ll spend the night at the historic Chama Inn opposite the railway station in Chama. There’s a great local steakhouse here – it’s the favourite eatery for most of the railroad staff.
Saturday 6 September
We’ll spend the morning chasing the eastbound C&T train up the steep bit from Chama to Cumbres Pass – the grade is 1 in 30 most of the way, and the loco REALLY works hard! We will then head west following the trackbed of the old Denver & Rio Grand Western narrow gauge main line through beautiful countryside past the Navajo reservoir to Durango, our base for the night.
Sunday 7 September
Our day out on the most famous of Colorado’s narrow gauge lines, the Durango and Silverton. We’ll leave Durango at 09:00 and traverse the ‘High Line’ way above Animas River before following the river valley all the way up to Silverton. There’s time to explore this old mining town (maybe have a beer in one of the saloons) before returning to Durango.
Monday 8 September
For those who wish, we’ll chase the two morning trains up to Hermosa for some great photos. Then we will leave Durango and follow the course of the fabled Rio Grande Southern through Dolores (where we can stop to examine one of the ‘Galloping Geese’ railbuses that were the trademark of this remote line and if we’re lucky, we may be able to have a very short ride up the 100 yards of track outside the restored station museum), Ophir, Rico and Lizard Head Pass. We’ll continue via Montrose and visit the steep Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a National Park, before spending the night in Gunnison, a real Western town.
Tuesday 9 September
Railway interest and scenery. We’ll drive over the old Marshall Pass, once on the Rio Grande’s narrow gauge main line to Gunnison. Marshall Pass summit used to be in a complete wooden snowshed, remains of which still exist. We expect the Aspen trees to be at their best – golden leaves shimmering in any light breeze. After passing through Poncha Springs, we follow the course of the old Tennessee Pass railroad to Leadville, Colorado’s best preserved mining town. We can ride the Leadville Colorado & Southern up to Climax – with the Aspen trees expected to be in season, it’s an experience to remember. Dinner is at Quincy’s where the only item on the menu is filet mignon of excellent quality!
Wednesday 10 September
We continue down to the Georgetown Loop, where we’ll take a train trip over the spindly Devils Gate Bridge behind steam. We then continue, pausing for a plinthed loco at Idaho Springs, via the northern outskirts of Denver, and head north into Wyoming to Cheyenne, the Union Pacific’s base for its steam locomotives. There should also be time to look at the city of Cheyenne. In one of Cheyenne’s parks, there is a plinthed “Big Boy”, one of the largest steam locomotives ever built.
Thursday 11 September
We’ll take an early morning trip the five miles east to the top of Archer Hill, a great place to photograph eastbounds climbing round an enormous S-bend. We can then head west to see the best spots on Sherman Hill – Borie Oilfield, Otto Road, Granite, Buford, Tie Siding and Dale Creek. We have permission to visit the historic site of Union Pacific’s first crossing of Dale Creek (the main line was routed away from here in 1899) – the stone supports for the original high wooden trestles are still in good condition. Back in Cheyenne, the recommended dining spot is the Old Station Depot, the station is well worth visiting in its own right, and we will have dinner, eating on the old platform one, within a few feet of transcontinental freight trains pausing for a crew change.
Friday 12 September
We’ll visit the Union Pacific Steam Centre at Cheyenne, where we hope that both the Challenger 4-6-6-4 Mallet 3985 and the Northern 4-8-4 number 844 (together with many other vintage steam and diesel locomotives) are housed. In the afternoon, we drive back down the Interstate to Denver. There should also be time to visit Caboose Hobbies, a railway model shop about the size of an average supermarket. There is conventional sightseeing in Denver’s city centre 16th Street Mall.
Saturday 13 September
After breakfast and packing for departure, we’ll call at the Forney Transport Museum, which houses several steam locomotives and many other items including cars from Ghost Busters, Night Rider, Herby & Jurassic Park.
Sunday 14 September