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Chama - New Mexico

The village of Chama sits in the mountains close to the Colorado border, in a region of forests and towering peaks, looking much as it did at least 50 years ago. The community was founded in the mid-1800s when gold and silver attracted prospectors and grazing lands enticed ranchers.

The prospectors departed early but the ranchers stayed. Lumbering, ranching, and tourism are the mainstays of the local economy. Although there are a few modest motels right in town, many visitors stay in several rustic mountain lodges, bed and breakfast inns, and guest ranches -- including the Unsers' famous spread. The Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is located at the junction of Highways 84 and 17 (call 800-477-0149 or write Box 306, Chama, N.M. 87520). Many travelers to Chama come here because of the scenic railway ride.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The old steam engine chugs its way along the narrow gauge line, climbing to Cumbres Pass and drawing passengers along one of the most scenic routes and on the highest train line in North America. This is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, an actual journey of 64 miles but -- in the mind -- a leap into the past amidst scenes of Rocky Mountain splendor.

Railway Note

The scenic railway ride may not be available because of fires and other reasons. Be sure to call the railway at 888-286-2737 to check if the ride is available.

The Rockies poke southward into New Mexico, and this railroad provides one of the best ways to see them. The line operates from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October from the depot in downtown Chama, traveling the 64 miles to Antonito, Colorado, and back again. A road joints the two communities, making it possible for visitors to take the train one way and return (or drive to Antonito) by car.

You can also book a van ride for one-way transportation -- either to or from Antonito. Osier is the high half-way point where the train stops and lunch is available. There are actually two trains that exchange at Osier and both have cars that are either fully-enclosed or open.

The line was built as the San Juan extension of the Denver & Rio Grande in 1880 to service the mining camps in the San Juan Mountains. It is now owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico. Fares range from about $30 to $50, depending on the length of the ride and if you wish to have a one-way van ride. For information and reservations, call 888-286-2737 or write Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, P.O. Box 789, Chama, N.M. 87520.

Fishing

Trout fishing is available at Heron Lake and El Vado Lake, part of the Rio Brazos system. Several of the lodges and guest ranches in the area feature fishing.

Chama Music Festival

For most of July, Chama features a festival that includes almost every type of music from chamber groups to jug bands, gospel, and cabaret performances. The festival is held at the Chama Valley Community Center and, in the past, has included a scenic mountain concert in Osier, with a train ride included. For information, call (505) 756-2197.

Ghost Ranch Living Museum

Situated 45 miles south of Chama and 14 miles north of Abiquiu on U.S. Route 84, this small but fascinating museum is on the site of the old Ghost Ranch, the legendary farm where artist Georgia O'Keeffe painted some of her earliest and finest works. The museum houses a collection of native animals, and museum displays show the evolution of the geology of the region. Nearby at the actual Ghost Ranch (now owned by the Presbyterian Church) reconstructed dinosaur fossils found in the area are on display.

Echo Amphitheater

A recreation site near the Ghost Ranch in the Santa Fe National Forest, this large rocky bowl offers a scenic campground and trails that explore this large forest and the rivers of the region.

Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation

West and south of Chama, this large reservation has several camping areas that are open to the public, as well as a large motor lodge in the town of Dulce.

Permits are required for staying in the Apache campgrounds, and these are available in Dulce. The Little Beaver Roundup is held in July and the Stone Lake Fiesta in mid-September. Apache hunting guides are also available. Dulce is 30 miles west of Chama on Highway 64, on the route to Farmington and Shiprock. Highway 537 runs the full length of the reservation -- from north to south -- providing access to the sideroads that lead to Apache recreation areas.

Wildhorse Casino and Hotel are located on the reservation, on Hihway64, and its the only hotel in its area. The Casino is a small one, operated by the tribe. The hotel is modern with large rooms and suites, a hotel restaurant, bar and lounge. There's a business center with internet access, and free WiFi.

Where to Stay in Chama

Chama Station Inn
Across from the Railway Station, Chama,
575-756-2315 or toll-free 888-726-8150
This small hotel (9 rooms) is well situated for railway fans and riders. It's been here for a while, the rooms are not large but it's a friendly place and clean. Restaurants are nearby.

Corkins Lodge
P.O. Box 396, Chama, 575-588-7261
Also south of Chama, at the very end of Hwy. 512, is this wonderful rustic wilderness lodge, which has been operating since 1929. If you love lake or river fishing, cross-country skiing, or just soaking up beautiful scenery, this may be your place. There are 15 cabins available, with sizes and prices varying. All have bath and kitchen, so bring your own groceries or catch a few trout. There's a heated outdoor pool, game room, and 738 acres for hiking.

Gandy Dancer Inn Bed and Breakfast
299 Maple St., Chama, 575-756-2191 or 800-543-4303
Housed in a 1913 Victorian residence, this charming B&B offers a comfortable and elegant atmosphere full of art and antiques. A full breakfast is included with each of the three rooms, and dinner is also available for an additional charge. The hosts can arrange bicycle rentals or a hiking or fishing guide for a trip into the nearby Rio Grande National Forest with a catered lunch.

Twin Rivers Trailer Park and Campground
P.O. Box 155, Chama NM 87520, 575-756-2218
The 50-site facility is located at the junction of U.S. 84 and State Route 17. There are pull-through sites with full hookups, showers, and laundromat. Campsites with tables and shelters are available for tent campers. A gas station and a supermarket are adjacent to the campground. Open year-round.

New Mexico Destinations

Alamogordo

Albuquerque

Aztec

Bandelier National Monument

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Chama

Cloudcroft

Los Alamos

Mesilla

Ruidoso

Santa Fe

Silver City

Taos

 


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