Thursday, May 28, 2015

Toot! Toot! All aboard the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad!

Hearing the train whistle blow, seeing the black smoke billow and the white steam hiss is a regular adrenalin rush for me!  Not unlike car, boat or horse races for others, I'm guessing.  I'm not sure why, but I have always loved trains, everything about them!  So, of course, whenever we can, we take the opportunity to travel on one.  The "older" the better!

I read about the Cumbres & Toltec Steam Train out of Chama New Mexico, several years ago, and had it on "my to do list", but it only operates from Memorial Day through October, so timing is tough.  We've just always missed their window...until now.

We came into Chama a couple of days early and stayed at the Rio Chama RV Park, which is just down the road from the station.  We were booked to take the train for the "second day" of their summer opening for the 2015 summer season.  They had all kinds of special activities planned for the first day, so we planned on being there for that.  In the mean time, we thought we would go over to the train station while no one was there to "check things out".

While we were there, we met "John", one of the "Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad" - a group of volunteers who love and work to repair and restore the deteriorated cars and buildings.  We chatted with John for awhile and learned a little, but it wasn't until the following day that we really hit the jackpot!  After watching the ceremonies for a bit, I saw John and another gentleman sitting on a platform towards the end of the station and teased them that they had the "best seats".  They invited me up to join them.  "Bob" introduced himself and we soon became great friends.  Bob shared all kinds of stories with me (and soon Jack joined us) - showing me some of the props from the movie Indiana Jones with Harrison Ford, including pointing out the Water Tank he swung from.  Showing us signatures of workers going back to 1924.  He lives 7 months in Phoenix and 5 months here working on the trains.  "You guys could travel 7-9 months and then spend the rest of the time here doing the same!"  He got us thinking...might be kind of a fun summer year!  hm mm...

 Bob, Jack & John sharing stories...
 Movie memorabilia from "Indiana Jones" with Harrison Ford - shot at this location, along with signatures from workers back to 1924 on the door
 Old double spout Water Tank, Harrison Ford used in the movie "Indiana Jones"
 #489 & 484 Engines getting steamed up, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway
At last the caboose leaves the station, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec is the nation's biggest, longest, highest most exciting narrow gauge railroad operating today...and so worth the wait!  It goes from Chama New Mexico to Antonito Colorado (64 miles), chugging you up a steep four percent grade, then over the 10,015 foot Cumbres Pass, the highest altitude reached by rail in the US!  Along the way you cross the line dividing New Mexico and Colorado 11 times, ride over the 137 foot high Cascade Trestle, pass through tunnels, hug rock walls and cling to a narrow rim of cliffs that drop straight down to the 800 foot Toltec Gorge.  One hairpin curve bends back so tight it reminds you of a dog that chases its tail - and darned near connects!

Depending on the season, there are all kinds of wildlife to see...we only saw deer, and one neighboring passenger saw an elk.  However, we did experience "every season"!  Sun, rain and snow!  It didn't stop me from going outside to the open gondola car to take my photos, though, it just "shortened" my visits a bit!  It could get mighty cold out there once the train got going on it's straightaways!

About half way, the train stops in Osler, which is nothing more than a "train stop" where they feed everyone a fabulous full hot turkey or meat loaf dinner (all you can eat) with all the trimmings.  Then back on the train you go!  Once you get to Antonito, you have a few minutes to stretch your legs (buy a few souvenirs) and then board a very nice bus and be driven back (only an hour back!) to Chama.  By day's end, its about 8 hours.  You sleep well that night. 

We've been on a number of train trips (and if you follow my blogs, you've read about them), but I have to say...this one was one of the very best...

Toltec Rock Tunnel elev 9,631'
Coxo Phone Booth
Mud Tunnel (342')
Cascade Trestle

...on the road in Colorado,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Road trip! Santa Fe & Taos...

We decided to leave the rig and take a couple of days and visit Santa Fe, Taos and even do the Enchanted Circle" loop that took us around Wheeler Peak.  We watched the weather, and found a "break" in the rain, and went for it!  We lucked out, a couple of beautiful, sunny clear days...lucky us!

First up, was Santa Fe.  Jack and I had been here before, but many years ago, so we decided to "start fresh" and get a visitor's map!  We began at the State Capitol building.  One of my goals, since we've been traveling, is to check out the various state's capitols.  I find them different they each are.  Anyway, that done, we ventured on to the Plaza, because that is where "everything" stems out from.  Just as we remembered it, there were the Native Americans selling their art at the Palace of the Governors, the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, Chili Peppers at the Plaza, and of course all the wonderful shops! 
State Capitol Building, Santa Fe NM
Native Americans selling their art at the Palace of the Governors,  Santa Fe NM
 Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi,  Santa Fe NM

This time we did discovered a few more new places though, like the Oldest House in Santa Fe (1646) and the Oldest Church (1610), along with the lovely Canyon Road.  Canyon Road started out to be a residential neighborhood with houses built in the Pueblo Revival style, over time artists were drawn to its beauty and began to create a subculture of artist-run studios and galleries and now, almost all of the buildings are used as such.  With my love of "doors and windows" I was in heaven with my camera!  What a lovely couple of blocks! 

 Oldest House (1646), Santa Fe NM
 San Miguel Church (Oldest Church 1610), Santa Fe NM
Along Canyon Rd, Santa Fe NM

Our next adventure took us to Taos.  This was a town that I had visited with one of my son's and his family about nine years ago and had always wanted to come back to with Jack.  My memories of it were so fond and full of beauty, I could hardly wait and I was excited that we were going to be spending the night in a lovely B&B as well.  How special!

You know the old saying "you never can go home again"?  Hmm, I think I know what that means now...Taos just wasn't the same.  Not as colorful or as vibrant as I remembered it, or maybe that it's that it's nine years later...I don't know.  We walked around the Plaza, around the shops, saw some of the same things, missed a couple that were no longer there.  We drove over to see the San Francisco de Asis Church which is beautiful, inside and out.  You are not "allowed" to take pictures of the inside, so I didn't, but I found a couple on the Internet, so I will show them to you you because the alter (painted on wood) is really beautiful (the pictures don't do them justice tho). 

 San Francisco de Asis Church (c1772), Taos NM
 Inside, San Francisco de Asis Church (c1772), Taos NM
 Inside, San Francisco de Asis Church (c1772), Taos NM

Our B&B (Inn on the Rio) was lovely, and Jules was a gracious hostess.  She and her friends painted all around the doorways and windows inside and out - made it so charming! 

 Inn on the Rio B&B, Taos NM

The next morning we drove out to see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge which is 650' above the gorge!  What a great sight.  It was a beautiful sunny day, so the view was spectacular.  We walked out to the middle of the bridge and got some great pictures.  Fun stop! 

 Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (650' above the river), Taos NM
 Rio Grande Gorge, Taos NM

From there we spent the rest of morning driving what is called the "Enchanted Circle Byway".  It's a loop around Wheeler Peak that connects the small towns of Questa, Red River, Eagle Nest and Angel Fire.  Just prior to starting the loop, we did a short drive out towards Taos Ski Valley on I-150 that was a really beautiful "oops" because it followed the Rio Hondo River all along the side of the road.   Back on the loop, it was very scenic and it only took a few hours then we were on our way back "home" again. 

All in all, a lovely road trip!

...kicking back in New Mexico,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Looking at the skies over New Mexico

Hot Air Balloons and Albuquerque are almost synonymous, since you can't hardly think of one without thinking of the other.  After all, balloons have been flying over the skies of Albuquerque every October for over 40 years now, and the people just love it. 

How and why did it all get started?  Well, those questions, and the whole "ballooning history" is all told in the wonderful Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque.  They take you back in time to the very beginning of ballooning, where the very first balloons went up (with a duck, a sheep and a rooster) in France.  Through the war years, on into the space age.  And how did Albuquerque end up with a balloon festival back in 1972?  Well, it began as a highlight of a 50th birthday celebration for KOB Radio.  The radio station manager, Dick McKee, asked Sid Cutter, owner of Cutter Aviation and the first person to own a hot air balloon in New Mexico, if KOB could use his new balloon as part of the celebration. The two began discussing ballooning, along with conversation and help from Oscar Kratz, and McKee asked what the largest gathering of hot air balloons to date had been. ”19 balloons in England”, Cutter replied. Kratz asked “Can we get 19 here?” Cutter said he would try. He got commitments from 21 pilots, but bad weather kept some of them from arriving in time for the festivities. The first fiesta ended up as a gathering of 13 balloons on April 8, 1972, sponsored by KOB. The first event was located in the parking lot of the Coronado Center Shopping Mall with 20,000 spectators and with balloonists from all over. McKee, Cutter, and Kratz are the three men who had originally started the balloon races.

The next year Albuquerque hosted the first World Hot-Air Balloon Championships in February and the fiesta became an international event.  In 1975 Albuquerque was looking at hosting the World Championships again, but the event was scheduled for October. So the fiesta was moved to correspond with the championships.  The Balloon Fiesta grew each year for decades, and today it is the largest balloon gathering in the world.  The number of registered balloons reached a peak of 1,019 in 2000, prompting the Balloon Fiesta Board to limit the number to 600 starting in 2009, citing a desire for “quality over quantity”.  Spectators can reach over 100,000 on any given day.  A number of years ago, Jack and I were just passing through, and lucked out, that it just happened to be on "the day" of the fiesta.  We stopped for gas and saw cars pulled over everywhere with people looking we did too!  Wow, what a beautiful sight!  The sky was full of every kind of balloon as far as you could see!  It was spectacular! pays to look to the sky!

 Le Reveillon, Blanchard's Balloon, Graf Zepplin & Le Martial Balloons
 "The Balloon Goes to War"
 Aeronauts Before Astronauts, The Strato-Lab
 Specialty Balloons

Another sky, about a hour and half outside of Albuquerque, gives you a whole other experience.  This sky is quiet, filled with stars, and away from city lights.  It affords the "best view" for the 27 Very Large Array Telescopes run by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro New Mexico.  Do you remember the movie "Contact" with Jodie Foster back in 1996?  This is that place!  One very big difference tho...they are not for listening...they are for seeing.  Simply put, "regular" telescopes can see a small portion of the galaxy, VLA, using radio waves, lining up together, can see a very large portion of the galaxy.  Thus, they have been able to discover areas of the galaxy (black holes, gas & dust clouds that optical telescopes cannot see into).  Because they use radio waves, they are not limited to night vision either, they are "on" 24 hours a day.  Since it first began watching the skies back in 1976, the VLA has observed nearly 43,000 different cosmic objects. 

Each of the 27 antennas in the array weighs over 230 tons, is 82 feet across and over 90 feet high.  They are on 82 miles of railroad tracks in a "Y" shape.  Most of their staff are in the town of Socorro, a core of 50 staff members, including 24 hour security, are kept busy on-site in the desert by the VLA's diverse needs.  The views from each of the 27 active antennas in the array are sent down fiber optic cables to a supercomputer.  The supercomputer mathematically merges the 27 views, uniting the array into a single, powerful telescope.  The merged observations of the VLA have the qualities of a giant telescope with an eye 22 miles across!  Now, that's really seeing some sky!

...kicking back in New Mexico,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Peaks and Valleys around Albuquerque New Mexico

We've been spending the last two weeks exploring the area around Albuquerque New Mexico, checking out some of it's "Peaks and Valleys".  

The "Peaks", was the Sandia Peak at 10,378 feet, via the Aerial Tram!  What a great 15 minute ride it was too.  One of the smoothest we've ever been on, and we've had the pleasure of taking several over the years (they say it's the longest in the world, at 2.7 miles).  We lucked out and had a beautiful clear sunny day, even at the top it wasn't bad, and only had small patches of snow left here and there.  They had wonderful decks laid out all around giving you great views of the city below.  The High Finance turned out to be a lovely restaurant with large windows and a great menu providing a nice lunch stop for us before we made our way back down.  Sure beat hiking all the way for these two old codgers!

We did manage to get a mild hike in though when we went to see the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  "Kasha-Katuwe" means "white cliffs" in the traditional Keresan language of the Cochiti pueblo.  Even though the elevation of national monument ranges from 5570 feet to 6760 feet, you still feel like you are walking along a "valley" of sand.  The cone-shaped tent rock formations are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6-7 million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1000 feet thick.  Jack and I thought they looked like a giant child had played in the wet sand and hand made wet, dribbled "cones" (like he had as a child at the beach).  They looked so "soft" from a distance, but when you got up close, they felt like someone had "preserved" them with spray glue, they were that hard.  Fascinating.  We hiked up to what they called the "Cave Loop" trail, that, in my opinion, turned out to be not much more than a big hole in the rock, but one person's "cave" is another's "hole" I guess.  I thought it would be bigger, is all.  Oh well...nice hike tho...
...kicking back in New Mexico,  Marie