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The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad rolls through the plains. —Courtesy of Stacey McKenna

All Aboard the Botany Train

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad’s Mountain Botanical Special teaches passengers about the natural world and how we’ve shaped it.

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This month, take a special trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, a national historic landmark and the highest and longest narrow gauge steam locomotive in the U.S., and learn more about Colorado’s diverse and beautiful landscapes.

Each summer, the railroad invites passengers to traverse 64 miles of Southern Colorado, traveling through five Life Zones—areas with distinct groupings of flora and fauna—gaining (and losing) about 5,000 feet in elevation, and passing through numerous microclimates. But on August 21, riders can enjoy a new way to experience the commute by taking a guided ecological tour on the Mountain Botanical Special.

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The one-time Botany Train rolls along the railroad’s usual route from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico—moving through the sagebrush steppe, aspen glades, and conifer forests; and crossing the spectacular, 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass before descending into northern New Mexico’s rolling, stream-fractured pastures. During the journey, on-board ecologists and climatologists will discuss the passing lands—pointing out must-see plants, like 400-year-old bristlecone pines, or lodgepole pines that are growing out of their natural range—and answer questions from passengers.

Much of landscapes are pristine and absent of fence lines or roads, taking passengers back to the 1880s when the tracks were originally laid as an extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. Its slow pace (the train moves at just 10 mph) means that riders can pick out a single Columbine or read names carved into aspen bark more than 100 years ago. Passengers will also have opportunities to disembark at various points along the way, in order to catch a glimpse of this historic ecology up-close.


If You Go: The Mountain Botanical Special runs on August 21, departing Antonito at 8 a.m. and arriving in Chama at 4 p.m. Passengers can park in Chama and take a luxury motor coach to Antonito in the morning (requiring a 6:30 a.m. departure from Chama) or park in Antonito and ride the motor coach back from Chama after the train ride, arriving back in Antonito at approximately 5 p.m. Tickets are $161 for adults; $120 for students with school ID or children ages 2 to 12. Train and motor coach rides, lunch at Osier Station, and the Mountain Botanical Special Guidebook are included. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad runs its regular route in both directions from late May through late October each year. Ticket prices vary but all include lunch and train and motor coach rides. Advance purchase is recommended.

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