Riding the Rails in Colorado, August 3-8, 2014
led by Fred Ackerman, Black Sheep Adventures
 GPS Map (north) 
 GPS Map (south) 

Many thanks to our tour director, Fred Ackerman. He kept everything rolling smoothly — no mean feat! His father Frank gave us expert narration, and Frank’s wife Jo capably assisted both of them. All of the M.I.T. Alumni were great traveling companions. Ron, our bus driver, did an outstanding job.


Delaware Hotel, Leadville, CO, Aug. 3, 2014   

The Colorado Railroad Museum has an extensive collection of rolling stock from railroads that ran in the state in bygone years. For me, the most fascinating item is a turntable with both standard gauge and narrow gauge track. There are three galloping geese, one for mail service, one for passengers, and one for pickup truck duty. Most of the steam locomotives are narrow gauge, as befits a mountainous state.

Starting at Silver Plume, our Georgetown Loop train was pulled along Clear Creek Canyon by old No. 9, a Shay locomotive with plenty of power from its gears but not much speed. We went over, and then under, the Devil’s Gate High Bridge, built as a much sturdier replacement for the bridge that was once there.

The other alumni I’ve met are well informed, ambitious, and fun to talk to. What an honor to be part of this group!

The boiler stayed kind of level on steep grades.
Coors? Bring it on!
Galloping Goose, sightseeing configuration.
Galloping Goose, US Mail configuration.
Galloping Goose, snowplow and pickup truck configuration.
Tank car with the measles? No, it’s a boiler from a steam locomotive.
The golden age of diesel railroading.
The twins are definitely on the mend.
No. 491 is being restored in the roundhouse.

Hmmm ... that new trestle on the Georgetown Loop looks sturdy enough ...
We went over and then under the trestle.
Uncoupling the locomotive for our return trip.
No. 9 is a Shay, with gears driving the wheels.
The Silver Plume Depot is a busy place these days.

Hampton Inn, Montrose, CO, Aug. 4, 2014   

Two interesting people from outside the group livened my day. The fellow who joined me for breakfast looks and talks like a wild and woolly frontiersman, though he’s actually from Pennsylvania. He asked me if there was a city I liked. My answer, “Oklahoma City” surprised him.

On the train I met a retired lady from Denver who had never been to Leadville before. We talked about the considerable differences between Denver and Phoenix, and tried to identify the many wildflowers we saw growing beside the tracks.

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern took us up into the mountains. When they stopped to turn around, they let everybody who wanted to go inside the diesel locomotive. You climb in by way of the steepest staircase I’ve ever seen, but it has bars to hold on to.

Our drive to Montrose was on the highway Jacque and I took four years ago, but we were going the other way. There were some brief showers, deer by the highway, and a rainbow. Our group stopped in Gunnison to visit the Pioneer Museum.

Frank tells us the history of Tennessee Pass.
Mt. Elbert rises majestically above Leadville.
The diesel locomotive pushes us up the track, then pulls us back down.
Bird’s eye view of the valley and Colorado highway 91.
Plenty of twists and turns along the line.
Methinks I won’t be climbing those rocks.
Zip line goes right over the railroad.
Don’t let go.
We got out and walked by the water tank.
Engineer’s view of the diesel locomotive.
No. 1714 on the Leadville, Colorado & Southern.

A movie star, No. 268 has a bumblebee paint job at the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison.
Keep off the Flanger.
Ol’ Hoss enjoys the telephone exhibit.
Surrey with a fringe on top.

High Country Lodge, Pagosa Springs, CO, Aug. 5, 2014   

Our train wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so Fred took us to the Blue Mesa Dam over the Gunnison River, which had a narrow gauge railroad bridge nearby. Then we went to a very special place: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s a fantastic canyon, with high, nearly vertical walls. I walked the Rim Rock Trail for to enjoy spectacular overviews.

We drove to Silverton on highway 550, an amazing road over the mountains, and had a picnic lunch in the park. Then we got on the train for Durango. I knew what was coming, so I found a seat in a half-filled open air car carrying young adventurers to a campground. There I snapped away at the scenery through the mountains along the Animas River. After dinner in Durango we rode the bus to Pagosa Springs, arriving late.

It’s a mizzly morning at the Blue Mesa Dam.
Foot bridge, just before the stream junction.
Narrow gauge railroad bridge is empty for now.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, starting down the Rim Rock Trail.
The Gunnison River rages far below.
Lichens and wildflowers adorn the canyon walls.
Each color of lichen is a different species.
It’s a long drive around to the canyon’s north rim.

Ouray, Colorado.

Our view of the original railroad bridge.
Young adventurers cross the foot bridge.
Mt. Garfield rises above the raging Animas River.
Crossing the river to a high ledge.
Here we get higher and higher above the canyon.
The Animas River is in charge here.
Shoot the rapids, anyone?
Rails to Durango.

Hampton Inn & Suites, Salida, CO, Aug. 6, 2014   

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

I got plenty of pictures, leaving my seat as soon as the conductor punched my ticket so I could ride in the photographers’ gondola. Amazing sights included the helper locomotive uncoupling at Cumbres Pass, turning around and heading back to Chama.

One picture I missed was several antelopes running through the sagebrush on our approach to Antonito. Although I’d seen an antelope while hiking, these were the first I’d ever seen from a train. You’ve got to be ready, and really quick, to get pictures of wildlife.

At the end of the line there was a narrow gauge diesel locomotive at the depot in Antonito. Frank is pretty sure it’s war surplus, because it was made by Alco in 1943.

Afterwards we rode the tour bus to Salida for an Italian dinner, then on to the Hampton Inn.

Helper engine leads the way on our train to Antonito.
Rotary snowplow chews through the ice and spits it out the side.
Tower watches over the tracks in Chama.
Double-spouted water tank.
Teamwork, that’s what’s going to get us up there.
Windy Point, here we come.
A’huffin’ and a’puffin’.
Thank you, 484, for helping us get up to Cumbres Pass.
Time for the helper to turn around and head back to Chama.
The Rio de los Pinos begins innocently enough.
A mile to Osier. Is anyone ready for lunch?
This little fellow rolled behind us on the tracks to Osier.
Water tank beside the original station.
Our sister train makes its way to Chama.
The river starts to carve out Toltec Gorge.
Watch that railing! It’s a long way down.
Rock pillars and trees line the north side of the gorge.
There’s no one home at Sublette these days.
Our journey continues past a rocky crown.
Forlorn tank car on a sagebrush siding.
Yes, there is a narrow gauge diesel locomotive in Antonito.

Academy Hotel, Colorado Springs, CO, Aug. 7, 2014   

We had a blast riding the Royal Gorge train and touring the Western Museum of Mining and Industry. The Arkansas River goes right through the bottom of Royal Gorge, but the narrator told us that the river didn’t carve it. We watched rafting enthusiasts float by, some of them battling the rapids and a couple of them jumping off the raft and swimming in the turbulent water — which didn’t look like a good idea to me. Faded luxury was the theme of our railroad car. It’s a fancy domed dining car which had once sported the Holland America insignia. I quickly walked back to the photographer’s gondola.

At lunch I talked with a budding author who is writing a fantasy novel, and with a university press editor. We discussed writers’ groups and how to interpret critiques.

A lady at the mining museum demonstrated western steam-powered mining equipment from days of yore. But she stopped short of setting off dynamite. I told the museum folks that I’m from a mining town: Joplin, Missouri.

We ate a really fine dinner at the Caspian Cafe in Colorado Springs.

What’s this? Amtrak locomotive, Holland America dome car.
Hasn’t been re-painted in D&RGW colors.
There once was a water pipeline.
Rafters shoot the Arkansas River rapids
Vertical clearance? The suspension bridge is 1000 feet above the river.
Down here we have the Hanging Bridge, where there’s no place to build a track.
Hanging Bridge supports.
Just keep chugging.
Six rowing and one steering.   Hmmm ...
Dark band in the canyon wall is a lava flow.
Hillside attractions we only saw from below.
Another look at that hanging bridge, on our return.
Rugged red rocks line the north side of Royal Gorge.

That big wheel at the Western Mining Museum makes me feel like a Big Wheel.
... and I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll pull your ore cart.
Now let me show you how it’s done.
The mining company office was a busy place.
M.I.T. alumni learn the fine points of mining.
This is high tech, 1910 model.
Are you sure it’s a shovel-ready project?

Hyatt House Denver Airport, Denver, CO, Aug. 8, 2014   

Although I kind of expected a trail down from the top of Pike’s Peak to the lookout points below, there wasn’t any. The rocks are big and jagged and loose, with patches of snow. So I didn’t go very far down.

The cog railway is an engineering marvel. Cogs on alternate sides provide sure traction on grades too steep for an ordinary railway. Their locomotives have changed over the years from steam, with an angled boiler that would stay mostly level on steep grades, to the Swiss-made diesel cars they use now. Passengers always ask about the brakes on the way down. They worked.

After leaving Manitou Springs we ate lunch at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, then watched a short movie about the rocks in the park. After the movie I had a little time for picture taking. On this partly cloudy day there was a mottled pattern of sunshine and shadows. You have to take the light as you find it, and hope it isn’t too long before the prettiest rock formations are in the sun.

We rode the tour bus to the Denver airport to drop a few people off. The rest of us got off at the Hyatt to spend the night before tomorrow’s flights.

Cog railway tracks and switches at the Manitou Springs Depot.
Hummingbirds enjoy a snack from their feeder at the depot.
Cogs like this get us safely to Pikes Peak and back.
Our conductor talks to some kids at the campground.
Above the 11,000' tree line, we still have plenty of climbing.
Snow in August, on the tracks atop Pikes Peak.
Cog railway cars go right to the edge.
Loose rocks and ice make for treacherous footing to that lookout point.
The snow forms round granules.
That’s as far as I’m going, folks.
Time to get back on the train.
Are you sure those brakes are going to work?
Another cog railway car follows us down the mountain.
Waterfall splashes on the rocks below the tree line.

Pikes Peak from the Garden of the Gods.
Arch, from the Visitor Center.
Red rock formations are scenically eroded.
Stairway to Heaven.

My first train ride was at age 1, when my mother took me with her on the Kansas City Southern from Joplin, Missouri, to Osawatomie, Kansas, to visit my grandmother. At 17, I rode the Santa Fe and New York Central from Kansas City to Chicago to Boston to enroll as a freshman at M.I.T. From Chicago on, every turn of the wheel was the farthest east I had ever been!

On the rails I’ve ridden from coast to coast and many places in between. Previous rail journeys in Colorado include El Capitan (Santa Fe) and the California Zephyr (D&RGW).