For adventurous souls, Rocky Mountain rail tours offer them exploration of the nicknamed “backbone of North America”, the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. Dating back to the 1800’s, most development of the region in general was motivated by mining for raw materials, and it has remained sparsely populated through the centuries. Thus the past is well preserved for vast stretches, but as a result of underdevelopment, automotive access still remains relatively limited. Railroads have long offered mountain travelers access to spectacular scenery.
Today, Rocky Mountain rail tours collectively span perhaps the most prominent mountain range to be found on the planet’s third largest continent. It was raised between eighty million and fifty-five million years ago, and is the result of several tectonic plates sliding beneath the North American plate. Its northernmost and southernmost points are typically demarcated, respectively, as the Laird River in British Columbia, Canada and the Rio Grande River in New Mexico, a total distance of approximately three thousand miles. The range’s highest summit, located approximately three hundred miles north of the latter, is Mount Elbert; found in the neighboring state of Colorado, its peak is at an altitude of fourteen thousand, for hundred and forty feet, the second highest in the contiguous United States behind Mount Whitney.
Adding to the exploration and splendor offered by Rocky Mountain rail tours are the numerous naturally occurring features, as well as a large number of National Parks. Among them are Pike’s Peak and Royal Gorge in Colorado. The latter, in the United Sates, are Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier national parks; in Canada, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, and Yoho national parks.
Among the examples of Rocky Mountain rail tours is the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. With a total track length of sixty-four miles, it is the highest (altitude) and longest narrow gauge railroad in the United States. It is maintained exclusively as a heritage railroad, passing through its namesake, the Toltec Gorge, and runs between the towns of Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico, the latter being where it is headquartered. Its entire length was originally constructed entirely by hand labor in 1880 in an astounding nine months, as part of the San Juan Extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In 2012, it was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States National Park Service.
Thus, Rocky Mountain rail tours are invaluable still today to intermountain travelers and vacation visitors every year. As the Rocky Mountain’s most traditional mode of transportation, railroads are a connection to the region’s past that will be enjoyed by present and future generations to come.