We took the Cumbres & Toltec train from Antonito to Chama, and returned by bus, a highly recommended option of the several they have. We had seats in the Tourist class car. Perfect choice. We were served complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in a very relaxing club car environment. Our hostess from Antonito to Osier was very friendly and informative, pointing out many things of interest. At Osier there was a crew change and the new hostess seemed a bit overwhelmed with her job.
The ride itself is spectacular, after a few miles of relatively flat San Luis valley scenery, we enjoyed canyons, steep gorges and forests on the way up to Osier. From Osier down to Chama the scenery is different, not as spectacular perhaps but very lush. Overall, the best scenery is on the left side of the train (heading from Antonito) so consider this when reserving seats.
The steam engine huffs and puffs along using (we were told) 4 tons of coal for the total trip, all shoveled by the fireman and engineer. The train goes through a lot of large rock cuts where you can easily reach out and touch the walls, going slowly to prevent vibration from loosening rocks that could fall on the tracks (or train!). After a lunch stop at Osier the train climbs to Cumbres Pass and from there goes down to Chama with the engineer riding the squealing brakes on a steep, miles-long descent.
At Osier, they served us a pretty good lunch in record time considering the size of the crowd. The lunch choices are turkey or meatloaf, both served with all the trimmings, and soup/salad bar. I had the turkey and my wife had the soup/salad bar. The turkey was very good, but I'm not big on canned green beans and the turkey dressing was not very good. The salad bar was very complete and fresh. All lunches came with good desserts from a self-serve bar. It would have been nice to have had a menu before we left Antonito from which to make our choices.
I spent most of the time in the open-air car taking pictures. This requires a tolerance for smoke and some cinders. If you are planning to spend most of your time outside in the open air car, don't spend the extra bucks for Tourist or Parlor class. But, in our case, my wife enjoyed conversing with others in the Tourist class car while I was outside.
Arriving in Chama we boarded a very nice 21st century Volvo bus that left promptly for the 1 hr +/- trip back to Antonito. There we boarded the waiting Rio Grande Scenic Railway train for a leisurely trip back to Alamosa. Also highly recommended. A great day!
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