Photographing the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is Chama, New Mexico's premier attraction. While there are other narrow gauge railroads in the country, including in nearby Durango, we heard a number of passengers say that the C & T trip is the best in the nation.
We took the C & T trip from Antonito to Chama. (There are several trip options. This one suited us best and takes a full day. Check their web site for more info.) They transported us via bus from Chama to Antonito, where we boarded for the return trip to Chama. Many of the folks on the train were clearly fans of train travel and knew a great deal about trains. The hosts in each car pointed out landmarks, described the C & T's history, and explained railroad operations. (It's more complicated than you may think.)
We took our trip in early October, when the aspen were at peak. Unfortunately, a strong front came through a couple of days earlier and blew off some leaves, but the trip timing was definitely worth it. (Note: reservations are an absolute must and should be made weeks in advance.)
Part of the fun of the C & T is that you can walk through the train yard and get a close-up look at the engines and cars. During the trip we took several hundred pictures of the engine and train as it wound through the mountains. The next day we photographed the train as it left the Chama yard and chased it for a couple hours. The track is parallel to Highway 17 for about 20 miles and we joined others who were strategically placed to photograph the train as it chugged up hills. It moves slowly, so there's no problem intercepting it; you can see smoke and hear the whistle from great distances. Usually, there were other photographers there; a few times we chose our own spots. With some planning and luck we were able to capture images of the train as it wound its way through the Chama Valley.
For photography on the train we went to the gondola which is toward the rear of the train and photographed the engine and first cars as the train rounded curves. It was chilly and the breeze from the train's motion pushed the cold through several layers. The car was not crowded early, but as the day warmed up more passengers appeared and it became difficult to get a clear shot of the train. A medium zoom worked well.
I doubt I'll become a train buff, but I can understand why many of our fellow passengers pronounced our trip the best train experience in the country. It was a day well-spent and we came home with many memorable images.