Growing up in a family obsessed with trains, I didn’t think it was weird for my dad and his siblings to give each other train magazine subscriptions and calendars for Christmas. I also didn’t think it was odd to ride a train at every family reunion or to have a cast-iron railroad sign outside our front window. I wasn’t even fazed when I stopped by my uncle’s house in December and saw a Christmas tree surrounded by the biggest train set I had ever seen, including a train tunnel actually built into the wall.
Though I tend to think trains may be slightly over-appreciated by my own family members, I also tend to think they might be under-appreciated by the general public. In an effort to raise train awareness, I describe here three railways I can say are worth the ride. These aren’t your fake city trains; they are historical monuments to an earlier America. The tracks were laid in the late 1800s in the Rocky Mountains, usually to haul much-wanted ore from mines. Today they no longer provide a massive amount of jobs to workers, but they remain for people around the world to enjoy.
DURANGO & SILVERTON
Originally, this train hauled ore in southwestern Colorado and was part of the original Rio Grande Railroad. As other lines died out, this one survived because of the magnificent scenery. From Durango to Silverton, the steam locomotive chugs on 45.4 miles of track that runs along and crosses over the Animas River. My family has twice had our reunions nearby, taking a day to hike two hours to the halfway point of the rail line and then jump on the train by the river. If you want to do this, you’ll need to call ahead of time, ask if this plan is all right, and let them know your plans so they will stop to let you hop on. After you’ve been hiking for two hours, the train ride is more than relaxing.
RIO GRANDE SCENIC
Called the “Scenic Line of the World,” this railway is something to see. On the ride, passengers view the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and other glorious peaks of the Colorado Rockies. This line includes dome cars for optimal sightseeing, an open-air observation car so you can feel the fresh air as it whizzes by you, and other cars, along with diesel and old-fashioned steam locomotives. While chugging down the rails, be sure to watch for wildlife. Elk, bears, birds, foxes, and other animals are often visible from the train.
CUMBRES & TOLTEC
The genuine steam engine of this railway pulls passenger train cars through a 64-mile route that snakes along the New Mexico and Colorado border. This is America’s highest and longest narrow-gauge scenic railroad—its highest point is over 10 thousand feet! At Osier, you’ll stop for lunch and then continue on your journey. This is a great experience if you’re looking for a unique, calming, and beautiful adventure within the States. And for those Indiana Jones fans (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), this railway was where the train scenes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed.
If you decide to try out one of these trains, keep in mind that the passengers and the people who operate the trains are often fun to talk to and very friendly. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a new friend on the rails. But be careful about becoming a train enthusiast yourself—you may get a train calendar or magazine subscription for Christmas.