The Denver and Rio Grande Railway constructed its San Juan Extension, between Alamosa and Durango, in the 1880’s, to tap the booming mining industry of the San Juan Mountains. The railroad survived the decline of the mining industry by serving as lumber, passenger, livestock, freight, and mail transport, it also carried oil produced at the Gramps’ Oil Field. However, it finally succumbed to the unfavorable economy and advent of the automobile in the mid-1900’s. When Denver and Rio Grande decided to abandon the route, active citizen interest convinced the States of Colorado and New Mexico to purchase the 64 miles of track between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico. The Cumbers and Toltec Scenic Railroad and the Durango-Silverton line are the last remnants of the once extensive narrow gauge steam railway. The Cumbers and Toltec Scenic Railroad is now owned jointly by Colorado and New Mexico and operated under contract. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Several references are listed in the bibliography that describe in detail the route and history of the railroad.


This important east-west route cuts famous north-south trails of the centuries in use at the time of Christ, before and after…the Indian’s equivalent of today’s Gunbarrel, U.S.285. For the 100-mile length of the San Luis Valley, this north-south route took advantage of a natural contour in the foothills; dry, open and easy underfoot for man or beast. It had what primitive travel needed—good landmarks, grass, and cool streams, fresh from the mountains, at the end of each day’s march. Sometimes, faint traces of the wagon road used 100 years ago show in the sagebrush or gravel bank of an arroyo. Cattle
and sheep still use it as a stock driveway.

Who passed by here? Governor Bautista de Anza did about midnight, August 22, 1779, pushing north with 600 Spanish soldiers and citizens, 200 Yuta and Apache allies, and perhaps 1,000 horses in a surprise attack against the raider Comanches out on the high plains below today’s Colorado Springs

By the 1820’s to 1840’s, pack trains from New Mexico were heading to California carrying wool, furs and blankets out; bringing back California mules and horses, and sometimes, captured Paiute women and children. This was the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, Santa Fe to Loa Angeles.

From 1852. the U.S. Cavalry of Fort Massachusetts or Fort Garland road the open county, patrolling to keep peace, or campaigning in war against the Utes, who had become angry and desperate of the loss of their lands.

Sixty miles away is Mt. Blanca (White Mountain), most massive of the entire region, altitude 14,317. Fort Massachusetts was built at its base in 1852, succeeded by Fort Garland in 1858, the most northern army outposts of New Mexico. All this was New Mexico until 1860. Since time immemorial, and today, Mt. Blanca is the sacred Mountain of the East to the Navajo people of the Four-Corners country of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado