2021 COLORADO RAILROADS
Road Scholar 4345
I took this trip back in September, 2011 but there were several problems in scheduling and also with the weather, so I'll try it again.
Day 1, Friday Travel to Denver
Note: ALLLL - ABOARD! Colorado's historic and scenic railroads have unique history and charm. Lovingly maintained tracks and trains, will bring you to the edge of your seat as you marvel the deep canyons below and majestic mountain vistas above.
Note: Note: Hotel check-in available from 3:00 p.m. The Program Orientation begins at 4 pm sharp. You will meet your Instructor and Program Director, who will provide important program details and answer all questions. You will also be provided with a luggage tag, name badge, and a package of information describing the program for the week. As a special feature of this program, we will be accompanied throughout by a Colorado history and railroad expert who will serve as our resident instructor, provide commentary en route, and lead field trips. Travel and transfers other than railroad field trips will be by comfortable motorcoach.
We have set aside some free time in the schedule for your personal independent exploration. The Group Leader will often be available during free time to accompany informal excursions, activities, or meals that have been excluded from the program cost. You are welcome to join if you like, with any associated costs on your own.
In the hotel dining room, enjoy a plated meal catered by the hotel. Our resident Colorado Railroad expert's introductory lecture this evening will begin the fascinating journey of discovery for the amazing rail adventures ahead. Our expert accompanies the entire program and will vividly describe along the route, often in the motorcoach the fascinating history of Colorado and the impacts railroads made on the settlement of the state. Lodging: Hilton Garden Inn, Airport (D)
Day 2, Saturday Colorado Railroad Museum / Georgetown Loop Rail / Colorado Springs
Note: Participants will walk and stand during the morning visit to the Railroad Museum. Walking around the town of Georgetown after lunch up to 4 blocks on mostly level streets and sidewalks.
Breakfast in the hotel. Hotel check out after breakfast, bring luggage to coach. Walking/standing at Railroad Museum. Walking up to 4 blocks around Georgetown, mostly level streets, sidewalks. Boarding/de-boarding motorcoach with 3 steps and antique rail coaches. Elevations up to 8,530 feet.
We board our motorcoach for a field trip to the Colorado Railroad Museum in the town of Golden, a former important mill town at the foot of the Rockies. Most participants prefer to easily self-guide this museum, but our resident expert will accompany those who want more information in exploring key areas of the 15-acre Museum, where the collection of over 100 narrow and standard gauge steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars, and cabooses offer a visual history into the state’s important role in the railroad industry.
Next, we’ll transfer to the well preserved Victorian mining town of Georgetown, nestled in the mountains at an elevation of 8,530 feet (2,600 meters).
At a restaurant in Georgetown, we’ll order off the menu. Take a few minutes after lunch to walk around and view the historic downtown surrounded by the rugged mountains. We’ll then take our first historic railway field trip aboard the Georgetown Loop Narrow Gauge Railroad. One of Colorado’s first visitor attractions, this spectacular stretch of railroad was completed in 1884 and considered an engineering marvel for its time. The thriving mining towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume lie 2 miles apart in the steep, narrow canyon of Clear Creek. Engineers designed a corkscrew route that traveled nearly twice that distance to connect them, slowly gaining more than 600 feet in elevation. The route included horseshoe curves, grades of up to 4%, and four bridges across Clear Creek, including the massive Devil’s Gate High Bridge crossing the top of the gorge on a 95-foot high trestle. This line was used extensively during the silver boom of the 1880s to haul silver ore from the mines at Silver Plume as well as operating for passengers and freight until 1938 when the line was dismantled. It was purchased and restored in the 1980s by the Colorado Historical Society. Dinner in Colorado Springs. Evening at leisure. Lodging: Drury Inn and Suites Colorado
Day 3, Sunday Pikes Peak Cog Railway / Garden of the Gods / Glen Eyrie Castle / Broadmoor
We’ll board our motorcoach and head to Manitou Springs for a field trip riding the Cog Railway to Pikes Peak Summit, where Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write her famous poem, “America the Beautiful.” The Pikes Peak Cog railroad uses a “cog wheel” gear meshing into a special rack rail mounted between the outer rails, which allow climbing much steeper grades than a standard adhesion railroad. The first passenger train made it to the summit on June 30, 1891. A lively narration from the conductor will inform participants about the scenery and history.
After our thrilling railway ride, we travel by coach to the Garden of the Gods Park with its magnificent red sandstone setting. Looking up at Pikes Peak where we have just been, we’ll have lunch at the park Visitor Center. We continue with viewing stops off the coach through the Garden of the Gods, so named by a surveyor in 1859 who said it was a fit place for the Gods to assemble. Now a registered National Natural Landmark, there are dramatic views of towering 300' sandstone rock formations in the foreground and Pikes Peak in the background.
Our next stop is the Glen Eyrie estate, popularly known as the Castle. It began as the estate of Civil War veteran General William Jackson Palmer, founder of several railroads and the city of Colorado Springs. The name refers to the eagle's nest that overlooks the canyon. The original frame house was enlarged and remodeled in 1881 to resemble a Tudor-style castle. Today, it is a religious retreat and conference center owned and operated by The Navigators. With a local guide and our resident expert we’ll explore the beautiful castle and grounds.
Our last stop of the day is the world renowned Broadmoor Hotel. Businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Spencer Penrose built the Broadmoor in 1918 with the goal of making it the finest hotel in the U.S. It was certainly grand for its day: designed by the same architects who created the Ritz-Carlton and Biltmore hotels; with thousands of surrounding acres landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame; and filled with artwork from Europe and the Far East. It even had a shooting school run by Annie Oakley! Many visitors came for the clean mountain air, thought to provide relief from tuberculosis and other maladies, and stayed for the exceptional hospitality. The Broadmoor is now a member of Historic Hotels of America of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We’ll enjoy a stroll around this historic structure and beautiful grounds.
Day 4, Monday Canon City / Royal Gorge Railroad / LaVeta & Rio Grande Railroad excursion to Alamosa
Slow start to the day. Breakfast buffet in hotel. We ride the Royal Gorge Train. Climb aboard Colorado's least scenic train for a 24 mile journey through the spectacular Royal Gorge. Since 1879, these tracks have followed the winding, tumbling Arkansas River deep within the soaring, 1,000-foot granite cliffs of Colorado's Royal Gorge. In the late 1870s miners descended on the upper Arkansas valley of Colorado in search of carbonate ores rich in lead and silver. The feverish mining activity in what would become the Leadville district attracted the attention of the Denver & Rio Grande and the Santa Fe railroads, each already having tracks in the Arkansas valley. The Santa Fe was at Pueblo, and the D&RG near Canon City some 35 miles west. Leadville was over 100 miles away. For two railroads to occupy a river valley ordinarily was not a problem, but west of Canon City was an incredible obstacle - an obstacle that would result in a war between the railroads in the race to the new bonanza ultimately won after two years by the Rio Grande Railroad. Look for the engineering marvel, the "hanging bridge" at a point where the gorge narrows to 30 feet. Here the railroad had to be suspended over the river along the north side of the gorge as shear rock walls go right down into the river on both sides. C. Shallor Smith, a Kansas engineer, designed a 175-ft plate girder suspended on one side by "A" frame girders spanning the river and anchored to the rock walls. The bridge cost $11,759 in 1879, a princely sum in those days. Although it has been strengthened over the years, this unique structure has served on a main rail line for over 118 years.
The day gets better. We return to Canon City and board our coach enjoying a box lunch on our way to the town of LaVeta and our next train ride. We arrive in the quaint town of LaVeta in time to board our next railroad adventure, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad's Excursion Train. This train takes passengers over an historic mountain pass to see the Rockies from the longest and highest standard gauge railroad in the country. LaVeta Pass is a majestic mountain pass with tight curves, untouched natural beauty and wildlife in the setting it was meant to be seen. This railroad leaves the highway behind as you travel the original rail route from LaVeta to Alamosa our destination for the night. Alamosa is located in the historic San Luis Valley, At altitudes above 7,000 feet the San Luis Valley is technically a high desert, but the surface is underlain by shallow aquifers that in places form lakes, marshlands, and warm springs. By the late 19th century, much of the land was cultivated, crossed by irrigation canals and wagon roads. The valley's scattered wetlands are home to eagles, waders, and waterfowl. The arrival of thousands of Sandhill cranes, migrating between New Mexico and southern Idaho, is celebrated in early March by the Monte Vista Crane Festival. Los Caminos Antiguos-a network of ancient trails that live on as modern paved highways-allow you to follow in the footsteps of Apaches and Utes, Spanish missionaries, and Western explorers such as Zebulon Pike and Kit Carson, settlers, Buffalo Soldiers, miners, and railroaders.
Dinner tonight is catered by our hotel. Lodging: Holiday Inn Express Alamosa (BLD)
Day 5, Tuesday All day trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Narrow Gauge Railroad / Durango
Hotel check out after breakfast, bring luggage to coach. We depart from Alamosa via motorcoach for a scenic drive along the San Luis Valley to the tiny town of Antonito, where we board the Cumbres and Toltec Historic Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Step back in time as the steam engines starts their winding journeys to the top of Cumbres Pass. The line was constructed in 1880 as an extension of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, but its gauge of only 3 feet between the rails — rather than what would soon become the standard of just under 5 feet — made it an anachronism almost from the start. Nevertheless, it operated off and on until the 1960s, and was on the verge of being completely abandoned and dismantled until a group of enthusiastic railroad enthusiasts persuaded the states of Colorado and New Mexico to purchase the most scenic stretch of the line. Congress authorized an interstate agency to operate it in 1974, while a non-profit organization preserves these assets for the public as a living history museum that interprets railroad history and heritage.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad’s equipment and structures, and the vast landscape of the Colorado and New Mexico border, exist today as they were generations ago. During our ride, participants will have assigned seats but may wander to the open observation car, and snack bar where food and drink items are available for purchase. Our resident expert will accompany the group and strategically locate himself in an announced location for narration and to answer questions.
Arriving at Osier Station, the extensive lunch buffet offers multiple tasty entrées — all made from scratch in the Osier kitchen — plus a large salad bar, dessert bar, and choice of beverage. We’ll change trains and continue our journey to Cumbres Pass. Our train ride ends at the top of Cumbres Pass (10,015' elevation) where we disembark and transfer by our motorcoach to Durango, arriving late afternoon.
At a restaurant in Durango, enjoy a plated meal. Lodging: Best Western Inn and Suites
Day 6, Wednesday Durango & Silverton RR / Silverton / Million-Dollar Highway to Ouray
We board our motor coach for the short transfer to the train station. [Some participants may choose an optional early morning visit to the roundhouse museum prior to boarding the train for the all morning trip. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in continuous operation since 1882, taking passengers and mine ores from Durango (6,512' altitude) to Silverton (9,305' altitude). In addition to federally designated National Historic Landmark status, the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized it as an historic civil engineering landmark. It has also been named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the Top Ten North American Train Trips. We will have the same kind of experience as passengers of old, boarding at the original 1882 depot and riding rolling stock original to the line pulled by a vintage steam locomotive. The leisurely pace of about 18 miles an hour provides wonderful opportunities to appreciate the spectacular scenery experienced by Native Americans, settlers, cowboys, and miners. Participants will have ticketed assigned seats. The conductor gives narration along the route and our resident expert will circulate to our seats for commentary and to answer questions. We disembark in Silverton.
We board our coach for the drive to Ouray, We will have a box lunch on the coach. This has been changed from the original itinerary due to Road Construction highway closings and that the schedule is a very constrained travel window. We drive the most spectacular highway journey of our program, the “Million Dollar Highway” (U.S. Route 550) to Ouray. Built in the 1930s, the 25-mile stretch follows the old miners’ trail through the magnificent San Juan Mountains, some of the most rugged and scenic of all Colorado's mountain ranges. The highway cuts through steep cliffs in several places with hairpin turns that might give you a few butterflies, but the reward in awesome views makes it well worthwhile. Late melting snows encourage summer wildflowers, while stands of Aspen trees turn golden in the fall.
We check into our hotel in late afternoon. At a local restaurant, enjoy a plated meal. Lodging: Ouray Chalet Inn
Day 7, Thursday San Juan Mountains & Yankee Boy Basin / Ridgeway / Time in Ouray
At a local restaurant where we order off the menu. Ouray is sometimes called the Switzerland of America for its alpine landscape surrounded by mountains. Among the many natural wonders is Uncompahgre National Forest, covering more than 950,000 acres, and Yankee Boy Basin within the forest. We will board specially converted 4-wheel drive vehicles for a safe and exciting journey to the beautiful alpine meadows of Yankee Boy Basin. We drive up and along Canyon Creek, under the dramatic cliffs, past the lower Camp Bird mine, through the ghost town of Sneffels, past the Revenue, Atlas and Ruby Trust mines and up to the beautiful Twin Falls surrounded by rugged mountain peaks.
Arriving at the Basin, we are surrounded in summer by fabulous wildflowers including the Colorado state flower, the Blue Columbine. In autumn, the magnificent fall colors of golden aspen and red shrubs await. Along the way we pass the Camp Bird Mine, one of the most famous and highly-productive old gold mines in the San Juan Mountains. It was discovered in 1896 by Irish immigrant Thomas F. Walsh, who became one of the richest men in America and — highly unusual for his time — a progressive advocate for laborers. As a result, Camp Bird Mine did not experience the violent strikes at many western mines of the era. We’ll then hop board our motorcoach for a short ride to the town of Ridgeway.
Lunch is at a local restaurant. Next, ride our coach or walk the short distance to the Ridgway Railroad Museum, dedicated to preserving Colorado railroad history with a focus on restoration, education, and research. Our resident expert will lead our walk although some may choose to self-guide the collection. The museum includes railroad equipment, artifacts, historical data, books, and photographs of Ouray County and the San Juan Mountains, plus exhibits and displays of railroad rolling stock. Most famous is the museum's collection of "Galloping Goose" rail-motorcars — a unique combination of locomotives and cars designed and built by adapting gasoline powered autos and trucks into small rail vehicles.
Returning to Ouray, the remainder of the afternoon is free to enjoy on your own. Our resident expert will give recommendations about local historic sites and museum. Dinner is on our own.
Day 8, Friday Black Canyon of the Gunnison / Redstone Inn / Glenwood Canyon / Idaho Springs / Denver
We board the motorcoach for the drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of the nation’s newest national parks and one of the oldest geological features. The Gunnison River carved Black Canyon gorge out of rock over a period of 2 million years. Today we see nearly vertical canyon walls plunging to a depth of more than 2,000' with some of the most rugged spires in North America. In all of recorded history, there is no evidence of human habitation anywhere except at the rim. We stop and walk to scenic overlooks where a local expert will discuss the geology and history of the amazing canyon. Our next stop is at the summit of McClure Pass (8,755') to view the magnificent and rugged Elk Mountains.
We continue to our lunch destination, Redstone Inn. The tiny town of Redstone was created by John Cleveland Osgood, one of the 19th century’s richest “robber barons.” Completed in 1902, it was intended to be a utopian community for workers connected to Osgood’s coal mining enterprise.
The final leg of our journey back to Denver via motorcoach takes by way of Glenwood Canyon, a scenic byway with a uniquely engineered section of Interstate 70. We pass the ski resorts of Beaver Creek, Vail, Copper Mountain, and Loveland along the route. We also drive through the Eisenhower Tunnel. With a maximum elevation of 11,158' above sea level, it is one of the highest vehicular tunnels in the world. The tunnel is the longest mountain tunnel and highest point on the Interstate Highway system. Completed in 1979, it was one of the last major pieces of the Interstate Highway system to be completed. We arrive late afternoon at our hotel.
In the hotel, enjoy a meal catered by the hotel. Lodging: Hilton Garden Inn – DIA
Day 9, Saturday Departures
Breakfast buffet in hotel. Independent departures after breakfast. Schedule the free hotel shuttle to the airport. (B)