Cumbres Pass (though the railroad just called it Cumbres) is the highest point on the San Juan Extension at 10,015 feet above sea level. It marks the crossing between the Rio de los Pinos and Rio Chama watersheds but is not, contrary to popular belief, the crossing of the Continental Divide. The Divide crossing is actually west of Chama, at an unremarkable spot.
At one time, Cumbres had numerous structures. It was the site of a section house, bunk house? and several related sheds, a house for a car inspector, a depot, and a fully-enclosed turntable, in addition to the extensive snowsheds over the legs of the wye.
Compared with the original, very little of the snowshed survives today. At one point, these were common all over the Cumbres Pass section of the line. At the end of operations, the only surviving one was on the west leg and tail of the Cumbres wye. The C&TS did not move quickly enough to stabilize the structure, and in 1979, particularly heavy snows brought down most of it. Today, only a small section over the tail track survives, but it has been stabilized and should remain for years to come.
Much like Sublette, NM, Cumbres had an above-ground water tank until 1937 that was later replaced with an in-ground system. This tank was located on the north side of the tracks near the west end of the section house. It was fed by a windmill and pump, located near the tail of the wye on the east side of the snowshed. Eventually, the windmill was replaced by a gasoline engine, and in 1937, both the pump and the water tank were replaced by the in-ground storage system and standpipe? that still deliver water to locomotives today.
The main building at Cumbres today, often mistaken for a depot, is actually the old section house. Just to the west lies the old coal house, also stabilized and preserved. The depot was actually located on the east side of new Colorado Highway 17, and was removed in 1954.
Cumbres was also unique in that there was a dedicated house for the car inspector. Because all trains required an air brake test before leaving Cumbres, the D&RGW constructed a building so as to have an inspector on site at all hours to assist with this process. It's somewhat away from the main part of Cumbres, located on the hill behind the water cistern.
Track configurations at Cumbres have changed over the years. One of the most notable changes is the removal of the 50' enclosed gallows turntable from the south leg of the wye. Other changes seem to involve rerouting of the through tracks to make for a more direct route through the site.
East of the east Cumbres switch lies a giant loop in one of the side valleys, making a full 360 degree turn to gain the final elevation to reach the pass. Never officially named, this curve is known as Tanglefoot Curve.
Leaving Cumbres westbound, the line crosses a small, six panel wooden trestle and then snakes around a narrow ledge high above the valley (and the highway) below. This area, one of the most scenic and recognizable on the line, is unofficially known as Windy Point.
Maps and Photos
Photos of Cumbres, CO