The Rio Chama Canyon Adventure – Part Two

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) has a section that runs through the canyon. We drove back down the river to Skull Bridge and parked. Once you leave the road you are in the Chama River Canyon Wilderness. The trail heads out through the Ojitos Canyon where cattle are being grazed on the grassland. The walls of the Chama Canyons are a striking variety of colors from yellows to maroons marking the distinct sedimentary layers of rock. We hiked several miles across the canyon and then the trail headed up a side canyon and began to gain some elevation. We continued to follow it and it eventually started paralleling a small stream.

The clouds settled back in but they were high and did not seem to be threatening rain so we continued for awhile until we got tired. Didn’t see any wildlife to speak of but the canyon walls were quite interesting throughout the hike. We thought we might get to the point where the canyon narrowed down but decided we had best turn back. The hike back went pretty quickly and by the time we got back to the car we had covered eight miles. We hadn’t planned to go quite so far but it felt good to be out and about and not cooped up by bad weather.

We got back to the campsite and were rewarded with a brief clearing in the west which afforded a nice sunset. I got the fire going and we cooked up some supper and settled down to enjoy the evening. We decided to retire a little early and had no more gotten bedded down when it began to rain again. The tarp I had rigged over the tent worked like a charm and for the most part we managed to keep the rain out that night. The floor didn’t fair quite as well and by morning most everything was wet on the bottom again. But..it finally dawned clear and sunny! I got another fire started and we spent the morning soaking up the heat from the sun after having a nice breakfast and spreading the stuff out over the Jeep to dry out.

Decision time…stay or go. Despite the clear skies we were not convinced and decided our best bet was to head home. When everything was dried out we broke camp and got the Jeep packed up. I crawled under the Jeep and chiseled some more of the mud off the inside of the wheels to get the wheels back in balance. Finally, we are ready to roll…turn the key…and hear click-click-click. Dead Battery! Ahh..well…why not. Seems to be par for the course at this point.

One nice thing about camping in a campground there is no shortage of folks willing to help you out of a jam. I flagged down a couple of girls driving this huge truck and we got the battery jump started. Off we go and as we headed back along the river I spotted some rafters. We got ahead of them and I managed to snap a few shots along the river. The river was flowing pretty high and there were quite a few people out floating or kayaking.

We finally made it back to the highway and headed for Colorado. I wanted to go back up through the town of Chama because there is a historic railroad station there where the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic railroad still operates. The area right around Chama, NM is really beautiful. and we enjoyed our stop with some local lunch and ice cream and fudge for dessert. I went into the train station and asked about the train since it wasn’t in the station. Turns out that this was the first weekend of the season and the train was due back in about an hour. Which meant that it was coming down the pass and we would probably get a chance to see it and take some pictures. So we headed up the pass and sure enough we could see it coming quite a ways off. I had Rhonda turn the Jeep around and we went back a quarter of a mile or so where I had seen a bridge on a curve in the tracks.

I got out and pretended not too see the No Trespassing sign, hopped the fence, and hoofed it down into a pasture. Got there just in time and managed to get some nice pictures. I wasn’t the only one either. There were two or three others that had followed me down. We all escaped safely without getting shot or arrested but I began to see why the signs were posted. I had no idea there were so many people chasing trains for photo ops. We drove on up through the rest of the pass on over the border into Colorado. The scenery on Hwy 17 is quite spectacular and highly recommended if you are in the area.

The highway descends into the San Luis Valley and we then headed north a short ways to check out a church we had seen on the way down. It was billed as the oldest church in Colorado. It was still open to visitors so we went in and had a look around. The stained glass windows were beautiful and the craftsmanship of the altar and other furnishings were amazing. The church has been beautifully restored and is worth a stop.

We continued our long journey up the San Luis Valley and eventually exited, passing through Poncha Springs, and headed towards Buena Vista and the Cottonwood Hot Springs. We had decided that it was worth the money after our cold soggy outing to soak for a while in the hot springs! There was a spectacular sunset over the Collegiate Peaks to the west that we were enjoying and I never even saw the Sheriffs Deputy till he was right in my rear view mirror. It seems I had missed the fact the speed limit changed. So, we had a nice chat with the Deputy. I fully expected a ticket when he came back to the car but he had mercy on us tired weary travelers and just told me to slow it down. WhooHoo! Shortly thereafter we were making “Aahhhhh” noises in the 110° outdoor pools. It was a nice finish to an otherwise challenging trip.