Thursday, July 12, 2007

Charmin' Chama

We've always wanted to explore the mountains of northern New Mexico, and have been intrigued by the area around the small town of Chama. Located just south of the Colorado border, Chama sits in a beautiful valley surrounded by high, green mountains with large aspen groves and meadows. With just a small main street and the usual tourist shops, the town is best known as the southern terminal of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, an 1880s steam-powered train that travels on a route from Chama to Antonito, Colorado. We spent a week at the Little Creel Resort, a crowded but adequate RV park on the banks of the Rio Chama. The weather was a change from the desert of Albuquerque, with evening temperatures in the 70s and overnight lows in the high 40s. Since we were there over the 4th of July holiday, we expected the area to be crowded, but were surprised at how may people, mostly Texans, had discovered the area. Fortunately, we had made advance reservations for the train ride, opting for the Chama to midpoint (Osier) and back trip. The train departed Chama at 10:00 with lots of steam, smoke, and whistles and began a slow climb over windy point and Cumbres Pass on it's way to Osier, two and one-half hours away. Climbing over the pass, the train descended into the Los Pinos valley and then again climbed to our lunch stop at Osier, a deserted mining town at over 9600'. There, a large building hosted a cafeteria-style lunch of turkey, meat loaf, salad bar, and lots of desserts. For such a remote location, the food was surprising good (the buttermilk pie was remarkable!), and we thought it was a nice touch that as we left, the employees all lined up trainside to say thanks and wave goodbye. On the ride back to Chama, we spent time on the open flat car, with the breeze (and cinders) in our face, enjoying the view and listening to the brakes squealing as the train made it's way down the mountain. Arriving back at the station at just after 4:00, we had time for a quick ice cream cone before heading back to the RV park. The train ride is a truly memorable experience; we highly recommend it if you are in the area. We also had the chance to drive the mountain backroads and on one day journeyed to Dulce, a small, predominantly Jicarilla Apache town that conspiracy theorists believe has a huge, secret alien/human base under the adjacent Archuleta Mesa. You have to read some of the web sites on the subject; they're hilarious. Although we looked everywhere, we didn't see any aliens, although some of the local residents looked suspicious. Back at the all-human (mostly) RV Park, we were visited by our good friends from our time in Dayton, Joe and Susan, who have also retired and now live in Monument, Colorado. We had a great time remembering our days as working (sorta) people, and caught up on old friends and family and our beer-drinking. It was great seeing them again and we're happy that they're also having a wonderful "second career". Finally, each day we watched as a pair of Lewis's Woodpeckers flew back and forth to feed their single baby. The Lewis's is a striking bird and we watched as the baby started poking it's head out, screeching like some sort of crazed banshee. All in all, our stay in Chama was truly memorable, and we hope to return some time in the fall when the mountainsides of aspen turn to gold. We're off on our journey north, so check back and see our latest adventures - Thanks!

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