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Everyone talks about ‘the foliage’ in New England every fall, but you don’t have to go that far. Aspens and cottonwoods in the West turn mountainsides and fields bright yellow every autumn.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad locomotive 487

One of the best ways to see those fall colors is on a steam train ride.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad gives you a few options. You can take the train to Antonito, Colorado and take the bus back to Chama, or start with the bus ride. We opted to start our train ride from Antonito.

The bus leaves promptly at 8:30AM, and they want you there no later than 8:15. We arrived at 8 for pictures, just as the 488 locomotive was taking on coal for the run to Colorado.

A group by the station talked about where each guy was from, their travel plans, and how much their kids will like this. Everyone had a jacket against the fall chill, and headgear ran from ballcaps to cowboy hats.

Conversation became impossible when the engineer signaled everybody that the outbound train was ready to go:

“Wooooott, woooooooooooott!!”

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad locomotive 487

We got on the bus and promptly fell asleep, like many of our fellow passengers. About an hour and a half later, we got to our train in Antonito.

We had tickets for an enclosed car. But the best way to see the sights is from the open observation car, so that’s where we spent most of the trip.

We had some celebrities along. Our morning docent/guide was John McCain’s double, and the afternoon docent was Gene Hackman. We also saw Ted Kennedy and Susan Sarandon among the passengers.

Autumn leaves had already fallen off some of the trees, but there were isolated stands of bright yellow splashing the hillsides.

We passed by monuments to fallen presidents, through tunnels, and around tight curves that moved us across state lines about six times. We also discovered a new way to turn all that gray hair black again. (Hint – ride the observation car without a hat.)

The fare included a lunch stop at Osier, complete with some of the best home-baked chocolate desserts I’ve ever tasted. The only way to get in and out of Osier is the train, so cooks make everything there from scratch.

Capturing pictures of the train as it turned on the track ahead was the main task for many passengers. In between photographs, I talked to a retired power engineer turned real estate investor, a couple with mountain bike-racing sons, and docent ‘John McCain’, who seemed to know everything about avalanches (one took out a train in the late 1800s, but no one was killed), maximum train speeds (21MPH), and the geology on our route.

When we rounded the final turn to Chama station, I was a little sad that it was over. Steam trains are a relaxed way to really see the country.

The Cumbres & Toltec runs steam trains between mid-May and mid-October. See schedules and other information here.