The Last Crusade
As ridiculous fans of the Indiana Jones franchise, we purposely detoured out of northern New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado to catch the terminus of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. Knowing we held tickets for the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad the next day (see Chains, Motors, & Whistles from May 2021), we opted against riding the rails between Colorado and New Mexico, but we couldn’t miss the sight of this old-fashioned locomotive carrying its passengers through the southern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Roughly twenty years after the start of the American Civil War, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad laid tracks in support of the mining industry, but in our day, we arrived here strictly as tourists catching a glimpse of a scene we recall from a different period in history.
The primary focus of seeing the train evoked cinematic memories from the third (and as my sons’ believe, the final) adventure of the archeologist named for the family dog. The Cumbres-Toltec pulled a less-typical cargo of a circus train through the Southwestern United States where a young Indiana Jones sought to elude treasure hunters by hopping aboard the mountain train as it passes through a grassy flatland. For us, seeing the locomotive would be another movie moment on our vacation adventures (see Field of Dreams from February 2013).
A Race Downhill
We inevitably find unique places to stop for a photo moment and somewhere between Santa Fe and Antonito, a winery, a bridge over the Rio Grande, and a nearly dwindled patch of mountain snow (see The Progression of a Snowball Fight from January 2012) slow our journey to the railroad’s end. But we spy the tracks and follow them as best as the narrow roads through the mountains allow. When we stop at an inspiring outlook, we hear the whistle blow in the distance, echoing off the peaking at our backs. We race onward in search of the historic locomotive and its length of cars being pulled through the wilderness. And with winding swiftness, we gain on its caboose and parallel its path for nearly a mile. When it bends westward, we push forward attempting to get ahead of its steaming engine so we can watch its approach and feels its thunder as it meets our vantage point.
We zip ahead and see a marked crossing where we strategically position ourselves and prepare for its approach. First we hear the vibration of the rails stinging from the weight and motion pulsing towards them. Next, we hear the engine pounding, chugging, working less difficultly than it must have through the mountains, but nonetheless exerting its force to move towards us. Then we see the mighty machine round a bend to the north and the puffs of smoke are left hanging in its wake. Then as it approaches the crossing and the road we previously skirted, it blasts its whistle, a sound unmatched by modern technology, and a sweet reminder of the history behind this mode of transportation. But it’s no longer a mode of transportation, nor is it even a reminder of a historic era faded into the past. For us, it is a piece of our favorite adventurer claiming the Cross of Coronado and riding off into the sunset. And once the engine and its full length pass us, we hop back in our car and do the same.