The town of Chama was built in the early 1880s as a service depot for the San Juan Extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW). The depot included a station house, mechanical shops for servicing equipment on the line, warehouses and stockyards. With the coming of the railroad, Chama became a boomtown full of contractors for the railroad, miners looking to exploit the coal in the Monero region of the San Juan Basin, sheep and cattle ranchers, and loggers and others working in the lumber industry. The town was know for its wild and raucous nature. Several events led to the downfall of the town — the loss of timber after forests were clear cut, the near loss of the sheep industry after a disastrous winter in 1931-32 and the abandonment of the D&RGW San Juan Extension in the late 1960s. In more recent years, tourism, especially the activities of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TS), has been helping to revive the town .
In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased the portion of the San Juan Extension running from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico, along with much of the equipment that had been used on the line. This section is the most scenic portion of the San Juan Extension and the line loops back and forth between both states. In 1977, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission was created by an act of Congress as a bi-state entity to oversee the railroad. The depot and yard in Chama are physically one of the most complete rail yards from the steam era of railroading.
In 1988, the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad was founded over concern for the railroad’s historic assets were not being properly preserved. The friends operate the museum arm for the railroad and provide a huge number of volunteers who provide financial and hands-on support for the railroads preservation activities. Volunteers work on the restoration of the rolling stock and serve as docents on the trains. They operate a small Visitor Center and Library with model trains and photographs showing the history of the railroad. The Visitor Center is on Terrace Avenue across from the Depot and is open when the train is running from late May until Mid-September.
Address: 500 S. Terrace Avenue, Chama,New Mexico 87520
Phone: 575-756-2151 or 888-286-2737 (for general information and tickets)
Hours: Late May to Mid-September, The Visitor Center is open on a catch-as-catch-can basis during the train season.
Admission: No admission charge for the Visitor Center. Train fares vary — see website.