For the past fifteen years, the Durango & Silverton Railroad has been holding annual Fall Photographers' Specials. This year, they decided to see just how many of us crazy people would wander out in the cold and snow to participate. The idea was to allow both railroad and photography enthusiasts the chance to photograph the train running through pristine winter environment on the remote, inaccessible parts of the line - mainly between Rockwood and Schaaf's Cabin, about four miles north of the Cascade wye. As it turns out, at $79/person, about 86 of us hearty (or crazy) individuals decided to participate, out of the limit of 100 they had space for on the run.
At 0800h on Saturday, 26-Feb-2005, we departed Durango for points north on a train consisting of K-28 #473, a boxcar, three coaches, two open-air cars, and a caboose. While it was relatively cold, the day started off completely clear and sunny. Over the course of the day, we did numerous pre-staged photo runbys at locations such as just above Tacoma, at the Tall Timber Resort, at the old Cascade siding, and at the Cascade wye, both of our photo special and of the normal winter train turning around. Obviously, with the open air gondolas and the curvature of the branch, a great number of additional photo opportunities presented themselves as we rolled along, as well. On the way back, it eventually began to snow, but then by Durango we were back out in clear skies and sun again. Afterwards, we were treated to a tour inside the roundhouse, and then, when I asked about the diesels, a chance to be escorted to the rear of the yards where all that good stuff lives that most people never get to see.
Most of the passengers had the good sense to use the warm coaches and their reserved seats to warm up between photo runs, but yours truly spent the whole day freezing in the rear gon. I don't regret it one bit - it's the most fun I've had in a long time, and hopefully you'll enjoy the photos. The entire trip was absolutely first rate. My hat goes off to the folks of the Durango and Silverton for an absolutely exceptional run on Saturday - thanks for all the effort invested into putting together this event.
With Saturday done and no regular train running on that Sunday, I clearly had to find something else railroad-related to do on the way home. Sitting in the hotel the night before, I realized that no discussion of either of Colorado's two longest remaining narrow gauge railroads (the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, of course...) is complete without a discussion of the original railroad line that created them - the Rio Grande's famous San Juan Extension. Now nearly forty years after the last revenue D&RGW train ran over the line, a surprising amount remains, hidden in the valleys of southwest Colorado and northewestern New Mexico. Since I was already out that far, I decided to use most of Sunday coming back to drive along the old right of way, checking for surviving artifacts from the old route. In the last part of the trip report, we'll cover all but a few miles of the route between Durango, CO, and Chama, NM.