2011 RIDE COLORADO'S HISTORIC RAILROADS
But it should be "Rain"roads

Road Scholar 4345

Ride the historic trains of Colorado and traverse the Rockies, following the paths of railroad engineers and pioneers! Visit rail towns, riding original mountain rails. Visit the famed Colorado Railroad Museum. Ride two renowned narrow gauge steam trains: Cumbres & Toltec and Durango & Silverton. Take the engineering marvel Georgetown Loop; ascend Pike's Peak Cog Railway to the top of the 14,110' mountain where Katherine Lee Bates was inspired to write "America the Beautiful." Ride the Royal Gorge Train and the scenic LaVeta Pass Railroad. Travel by 4-wheel drive through the spectacular San Juan Mountains. Complete the historic loop via Black Canyon National Park, Cimarron Cutoff Museum, and two Victorian mining towns.

The nice thing about Elderhostel/Road Scholar trips is that the posted package price includes all meals and there are no extra "options" to run up the cost run up the cost on this, one of my high priority trips .

however things start going wrong, then from Bad to Worse.

"Strike One" On March 30, they called and changed the dates of the trip to a later, MUCH LESS DESIRABLE, departure date which also means I can't go to a meteorite show in Denver.

"Strike Two" Even though they made some allowance for my having to change the air reservations, it didn't cover all of the cost/fees so I'M STUCK WITH A HIGHER COST.

"Strike Three" Then on April 14, too late for me to back out due to the air reservations) they sent a letter saying that they changed the schedule on day 4 deleting the following: Later travel to LaVeta in the shadow of the Spanish Peaks and ride this recently opened line to Alamosa via LaVeta Pass in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. This is also a new ride for me. This is also a new ride for me and is one of the rides I particularly wanted to do (reported by some earlier participants as the best ride of the trip). Grumble, grumble, growl, and gritch!!!!! Definitely ElderHostile!

That makes THREE Strikes against them and the trip and it's still five months before the departure, and it's usually "three strikes and you are out" but there's more to come.

"Strike Four" The local organizers don't (didn't?) send any pre-tour detail information as was done on my two previous trips with Road Scholar - or any of the other commercial tours I've taken. I'm really going into this trip "blind."

"Strike Five" After several days of nice weather in the area (when I was originally scheduled to be there), the Weather Channel is now forecasting RAIN for almost every day of the trip - and it does.

It was supposed to be a "highlight" trip, but after the ElderHostile "strikes," it will be lucky if it doesn't get a "thumbs down" (or maybe two or three "thumbs down").

Day 1, Sunday, September 11 Introductions (and some Anniversaries)
I hadn't thought about it when I accepted this alternate dates trip, but today is exactly the 10th Anniversary of the 9-11 attack in New York and Washington hurricane on September 11, 1961, the 50th Anniversary of Hurricane Carla, a huge Category 4 hurricane that hit Houston on September 11, 1961, and close to the 3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Ike on September 13, 2008..

I've long been planning to do this trip and finally managed to do so. I was going to drive, but 4 days of driving versus 2 days of air travel (only 2 hours versus 2 days each way) made me decide to fly in. Unfortunately the ElderHostile date changes made it a very bad choice.

I'll drive to the airport and park ($15 cheaper than the StuporShuttle with its new higher price). I'll get there extra early so that if there is more-than-usual security due to the 9-11 Anniversary, I'll still be in time. This turns out to be "overkill." The airport is relatively deserted and I drop off my bag and walk through security almost without stopping. There were only 2 people in line at the security checkpoint.
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Continental CO6881Houston - Denver12:50P - 2:19P2:29

The first flight is actually by disUnited rather than Continental. When I checked in (online) to print my boarding pass, I got a VERY nice surprise: a complimentary upgrade to First Class! I have no idea why I got that!!! Perhaps they were overbooked in Sardine Class (it was a totally full plane) but had empty seats in Business Class, and maybe since I've traveled lots with Continental I got to be the "Lucky One." The flight "pushed back" on time then while taxiing some kind of warning signal in the cockpit required that the pilot pull the plane to one side and stop for about 15 minutes while the problem was found and fixed. At least I did get a very nice lunch while the sardines got small pack of pretzels and 2 oz of something to drink.

On arrival in Denver, take the hotel's complimentary shuttle. It's the right time to check into the hotel (3PM). I was lucky again and managed a "perfect" connection to the scheduled shuttle and even had time to meet a friend and exchange some little items. We have our Tour Introduction and Dis-Orientation at 4 (nice tour manager - Kathy - and lecturer -Ron), Welcome Deception at 5, a very nice dinner at the hotel at 6, but our first "lecture" at 7 was cancelled due to everyone being so tired from travel. Hotel (nice): Hilton Garden Inn, Airport. (D)

Day 2, Monday, September 12 Colorado Railroad Museum / Georgetown Loop Narrow Gauge Railroad / Air Force Academy / Colorado Springs
RAIN is forecast. After breakfast (6AM) at the hotel, the coach leaves at 8. We first visit the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, CO. Then we drive to Georgetown and have lunch in a very small local restaurant (nice, but extremely cramped). Out next bit is to take a ride on the Georgetown Loop Narrow Gauge Railroad. This turns out to be quite nice but not spectacular. Since the weather was good (the only train ride in good weather), it turns out to be the nicest train ride of the trip. We have an excellent onboard guide and the engine is interesting, but there isn't much to see of scenery except trees. It's too early for Fall colors.

Afterwards we have to fight the freeway traffic south to Colorado Springs, stop at the Air Force Academy and tour the complex, the chapel and Visitor's Center. Oops, due to heightened security, we can't visit the Visitor Center, and the Chapel is closing (5PM). Also it starts raining. After a brief stop at the hotel, we drive around for a while trying to find the place where we are to have dinner - not the place originally scheduled. Dinner is fair, but not great. Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn, Colorado Springs (2 nights - same chain but not as good as the Denver one). (BLD)

Day 3, Tuesday, September 13 Garden of the (Rain) Gods Park / Glen Eyrie Castle
RAIN is forecast 20-30%. {Our driver, Ron, had to take the bus back to Denver after dinner last night - some problem had to be fixed. He didn't get back until well after midnight.}

This morning we leave at 8AM to visit the Garden of the (Rain) Gods (quite a while since I've been here) getting there early for some (hopefully) good pictures but unfortunately, it was raining. Then we head over to Manitou Springs to ride the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak, 14,110' high which I haven't done in many years. It started off nice, then rain about half way up, and snowing fairly heavily at the peak. Nothing to be seen except overcast, snow and snow clouds. Then it's back to the Garden of the (Rain) Gods to have lunch (soup and sandwiches) in the concession area there. In the afternoon, we make a field trip through a quick "drive-by-shooting" (not the originally listed visit/tour) at Glen Eyrie, General William Palmer's estate - he was the founder of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Afterwards we waste about 1 hours at the Broadmoor - in the rain. Dinner is at (another change) the "Barrel of Stale Crackers.". I had beef-less (Potato) stew. As they say on some of the tv ads, "Where's the Beef." Back to the hotel about 7PM. Basically a loser of a day. More rain is forecast for tonight and tomorrow (BLD)

Day 4, Wednesday, September 14 Royal Gorge Railroad / Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
RAIN is forecast today and for the next few days. Another train ride is scheduled this morning. We take a 24-mile ride through the Royal Gorge. There are 14 regular coach cars (nice) but only one open viewing car - and of course it is totally jammed. So all I could see from the coach is the rock walls going by. After traveling to the end of the line and back into the canyon, we disembark to ride the Royal Gorge Incline (nothing spectacular - ho hum!) to the top of the Gorge. We get a lunch voucher for our (limited) choice of fast food at the Royal Gorge Park. Then this afternoon we waste lots of time wandering around the Park. After wasting all that time - which fortunately is cut short by rain - we take a very rainy coach ride through the San Luis Valley via Poncha Pass and along the spectacular(ly overrated - I've driven along there several times) highway views (in the rain?) of the Sangre de Christo mountains on the route to Alamosa.

DELETED: Later travel to LaVeta in the shadow of the Spanish Peaks and ride this recently opened line to Alamosa via LaVeta Pass in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. This is also a new ride for me. This was one of the rides I particularly wanted to do. Grumble, growl, and gritch!!!!!

Dinner (we had to pre-select our menu) is at the hotel. Supposedly the hotel provides free internet (wireless) service but the signal is so low that my computer will barely register it, and can't connect at all even though I'm in room 101 just off the lobby. Bah, humbug and other words! Hotel: Inn of the Rio Grande, Alamosa. (BLD)

Day 5, Thursday, September 15 Cumbres & Toltec Narrow Gauge Railroad
RAIN is forecast. It is "Cold" this morning (37F) as we start out. Today we have another nice train ride but first we stop along the way in Conejos to see the oldest church in Colorado. Then in Antonito, board the Cumbres & Toltec Historic Railroad. but we don't go all the way, just from Antonito, to Osier, and from there to the top of the Cumbres Pass but not all the way on to Chama. I've done this once before and it was nice. Step back in time (9AM) as the steam engine starts its winding journey to the top of Cumbres Pass. We have to make our choices now for our lunch at Osier Station.

We get to the station about 12:45 for an hour and our nice lunch. However we can't go out and look around because it started raining (fairly heavily) about 15 minutes before we got there. At 1:45 we reboard our train (no change of trains) and continue the afternoon ride to the top of the Pass (10022'). It's raining the whole way and between that, the fogged up windows, and all the smoke and soot and embers from the engine, there is no way to take pictures. Because of the wind, smoke, and rain, I didn't try to get out on the open car for pictures on the way up. Eventually we make it to the top of the Pass about 3:15 and our driver meets us there and we travel to Durango with off and on rain.

Dinner is next door to the hotel in a local restaurant. It's still cold and drizzles, and the internet wireless signal at the hotel is too weak for me to connect. More Bah, Humbug, etc. Hotel: Best Western Inn and Suites, Durango. (BLD)

Day 6, Friday, September 16 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad / Ouray
RAIN is forecast. A heavy rain starts about 5:45 for about 30 minutes, then slacks off but continues, usually light, until about 2PM. In the morning take the D&S Narrow Gauge Railroad to Silverton (the best ride of the trip which I've enjoyed a couple of times before!). It leaves at 9:15 in the rain and gets into Silverton just after 1. Due to the cold wind and rain, I decide to stay in the enclosed coach - but which means very few pictures. We have a very nice lunch in Silverton. At least we didn't get the forecast snow. In the afternoon, we leave Silverton (in the rain) about 3:15 and travel further north on the "Million Dollar Highway" to Ouray which is my second favorite small town (after Petersburg) in the US. Dinner is in a nicely restored old hotel restaurant. After dinner we have to walk 3 blocks back to the hotel (not bad) in the rain. Hotel: Ouray Chalet Inn (2 nights - very nice; better than the last two nights - but that is easy to do.). (BLD)

Day 7, Saturday, September 17 San Juan Mountains / Ridgeway Historic Rail Museum
RAIN is forecast. We had very heavy rain overnight, and it is still raining lightly this morning as we walk a few blocks to where we are to have breakfast. Possibly because of the rain, the power went out/off several times during the night; once it was for at least 2 hours. After breakfast in a local restaurant (no meal service in the hotel), most of the group takes a 4x4 jeep tourof the San Juan Mountains - it's the usual short ride up to Yankee Boy Basin and back so nothing super special; by September 17, probably a cold, windy day.In fact, they even had quite a bit of snow up in Yankee Boy Basin. Since the weather isn't all that great (understatement), I stay in town and look around there.

After the survivors get back from the jeep trip, we travel to Ridgeway for lunch (which the tour director says is just so-so) and to visit the Ridgeway Rail Museum for about an hour. It' cut short by, as you would guess, rain. We do get a (very) short ride on the restored "Galloping Goose #4". We get back to Ouray mid afternoon so have some free time. We sign up for a guided tour of the old Beaumont Hotel across the street from the motel. There is still have some more free time before dinner, at the same restaurant we used for breakfast.

All in all, it's sad that rain has basically rained out the two days I was most looking forward to doing things. (BLD)

Day 8, Sunday, September 18 Black Canyon National Park / Denver
Grumble, grumble! After several days of rain, and particularly after those last two rainy days, today turns out beautiful. Why couldn't this have happened before!! Grumble, Grumble!

Again, breakfast is in the local restaurant. Then we make an early start (7:30) and take our coach to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP which will be a nice stop; we have our lunch near there at Redstone (near source of the beautiful white granite) after our visit. We make some other stops along the way traveling through the West Elk Mountains, and Glenwood Canyon. On the way back to Denver, we have our dinner stop in Idaho Springs (The Buffalo Bar/Grill which served us "Bufalo Steak with Sauteed Mushrroms and a baked Poato). We finally make it back to Denver with a very late arrival there - about 8:00 (BLD)

Day 9, Monday, September 19 Departures
After breakfast, take the hotel's complimentary shuttle at 8AM to the airport. We were to make air reservations after 8AM so 11:30 should be easy to make and I even get some breakfast. (B)

Continental CO58Denver - Houston11:35A - 2:55P2:20

No security formalities so I'll get home, maybe by 4:30 - and back to the 100+ heat!

This was supposed to be one of my best trips, but both ElderHostile and the "Rain Gods" did their worst to sabotage it. However due to great efforts of our Tour Director, Kathy Dec, our Instructor Ron Keiser, and a great driver Ron ("Ron Baby") Stewart, the trip was salvaged from what otherwise would have been a "two thumbs down" trip. Many thanks to them for all their hard work.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge





RAIL TRIPS:
Day 2 Georgetown Loop Narrow Gauge Railroad
Day 3 Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Day 4 24-mile ride through the Royal Gorge
Day 4 LaVeta line to Alamosa via LaVeta Pass -DELETED
Day 5 Cumbres & Toltec Historic Railroad
Day 6 D&S Narrow Gauge Railroad
Day 7 (San Juans 4x4 jeep tour)
Day 8 (Black Canyon NP)