Chasing the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway

Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Jul 31, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Thursday, July 26, 2012

Today was the day to check out the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway – the longest train ride in our program. After I dropped Scott off in Chama, New Mexico to board the train, I followed its progress for about an hour, stopping to take pictures as it chugged its way nostalgically through placid green landscapes, then leap-frogging ahead in the car to find the next likely vantage point. 

I love the countryside of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Sweeping green pastures dotted with grazing black angus cattle and stately horses, hillsides draped with swathes of green aspen, or ponderosa pine, winding streams and rushing rivers, looming craggy peaks towering over me, and that's saying something considering the highway I was on today topped out at over 10,000 feet above sea level.

About half way through the drive to Antonito, the end of the line where I was to meet Scott, I started looking for a place to replenish my water supply. One of the picturesque, high-mountain valleys I was driving through had a tiny little community with a restaurant/grocery market. 

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and got out of the car. An older man was leaned over the pickup truck window across the parking lot chatting with a friend, but stopped to holler out “The store isn’t open yet”. I yelled back my thanks and started to get back into my rental car. But he didn’t let it go: “Whatdya need?” he yelled. “Oh, just some water and maybe a snack”, I yelled back, but I’m not desparate; I can wait till Antonito.”.

By this time, he’d waved to his pal and was ambling my direction. “Whaday say?” he asked, as he got closer. “I just said ‘I can wait until Antonito – not an emergency’” I replied. “Come on”, he motioned with his hand. “Store was supposed to open at 11:00.” It was about 11:30 am and whoever was supposed to man it had apparently not shown up yet.

He unlocked the door, and I pulled a bottle of cold water out of the refrigerated case, snagged a Snickers bar from the rack, and pulled a $10 bill from my wallet. He was standing behind the cash register, but making no signs that he intended to do anything about it. 

“You got a couple of bucks?” he asked. “Well,” says I, looking into my rather empty wallet, “all I have is a $1.” “That’ll be fine”, says he, without making any move to open the till or record the sale. I laughed, a little embarrassed, and pulled out a bit of loose change to add to my offering of a dollar. 

 We exchanged pleasantries about what a beautiful valley this was, how he’d lived here all his life. I offered that this was the kind of place I was looking for, meaning longer term, but that I was also looking for a place to hole up with my laptop and get a little work done while I waited for the train. 

“I’m looking for somewhere with WIFI.” I said, “and Antonito a pretty small place.” I didn’t know if this gentlemen of advanced years (he had to be in his late 70s) would relate to that terminology. Without missing a beat he said, “Just drive around until you pick up a signal”, and chuckled. I agreed that might work, said goodbye, and headed back to my car. 

I know there are liabilities and disadvantages associated with small communities. But this is the kind of experience I love about small-town America, or small-town anywhere for that matter. Life is reduced beneath the complexities and noise of our fast-paced schedules. People don't feel so compelled to remove the margins in their lives. There is time to talk, to respond to an unscheduled interruption, to help a stranger. 

I want to live more like that!
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