About three hours southwest of Colorado Springs, just north of the New Mexico border, is a tiny town called Antonito. There, you can hitch a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, the nation’s highest, longest and most authentic steam railroad.
“We’re not just pretending that it’s the old days,” John Bush, President and General Manager of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, said. “Here, it is the old days, and we’re proud of that.”
There, things move a little slower.
“We spend a day going 12 miles an hour,” Bush said.
But it’s a good thing.
“People find when you’re going 12 miles an hour, you change, you slow down,” Bush said. “Dads start talking to their sons and to their daughters, and husbands and wives kind of reconnect, and you talk to your neighbors.”
The railroad prides itself on being a true representation of the Old West and offers a rare chance to see Colorado unchanged.
“So not only do you see the world that existed 130 years ago, but you see it in the same way that it was experienced 130 years ago,” Bush said. “And, you see it for long enough to let that soak into you.”
The coal-fired steam engine carries passengers 64 miles between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico, passing through some of the most remote and most beautiful parts of the Rocky Mountain West.
“It goes through an area that never got developed, so it’s an opportunity to see that chunk of the past, to see the West that people came west to see,” Bush said.
Among those people are legends like Wyatt Eryp, Doc Holiday, and even President William Howard Taft.
“And then countless other politicians, good guys, bad guys, and then fictional good guys and bad guys like Indiana Jones was out here. We’ve filmed lots of movies,” Bush said.
Here, history comes to life.
“There’s some stuff that you can see in the museum and you can sort of understand it, but there’s some things that you don’t really get unless you see them live,” Bush said. “Steam engines are certainly one of those things.”
Each piece of equipment is restored and works, or will one day.
“We genuinely believe that in order to understand who you are and where you’re going, it’s important to understand who you were and where you came from,” Bush said.
The railroad is currently working on restoring the 168, the steam engine that sat in Antlers Park in Colorado Springs for many years.
“It will run again, right through here, just as it did back in 1883, so we’re excited about that,” Bush said.
The steam engine was retired in 1933 and was placed in the park in 1938.
“To see them in a park is nice, but to see them alive, smoke coming out, and the steam and the whistle and the noise, they’re living creatures,” Bush said.
The Cumbres & Toltec railroad has a special connection to Colorado Springs.
“Palmer, who was the founder of Colorado Springs, was the founder of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad,” Bush said. “This is part of that original railroad. This is in fact the only surviving piece that is really unchanged.”
The 168 is expected to be completed near the end of 2019, and eventually will pull a historic passenger car that is also being refurbished.
“Literally you’ll step back and experience it exactly the way it was done 130 years ago,” Bush said.
The Cumbres & Toltec 2018 season opens Saturday and runs through October 21.
Special themed trains are offered throughout the year, including a murder mystery dinner train, a John Denver train and a fall aspen viewing train.
Colorado Springs residents receive a 25 percent discount on any ride. For more information, visit cumbrestoltec.com .