SANTA FE, N.M. — The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, long considered a northern New Mexico jewel, is now a national historic landmark.
On Wednesday, federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the narrow gauge train that runs between Chama and Antonito, Colo., is among 26 newly designated historic landmarks.
“We’re excited,” said Randy Randall of Santa Fe, a member of the bi-state Cumbres & Toltec commission.
“We hope it really gives the train the authentication, if you will, that it deserves, and it’s going to make it, we think, easier to market to our customers,” said Randall. “And it will help, we’re hoping, to provide new sources of funding as we try to improve our equipment and facilities.”
The train is owned by New Mexico and Colorado.
Randall said persuading the federal government to give the train the historic landmark designation was “a six year or longer journey,” with the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad group leading the effort.
Also making the list this year was the San José de los Jémez Mission and Gíusewa Pueblo site, part of Jémez State Monument near Jémez Springs.
Randall said it has become much more difficult to achieve historic landmark status in recent years. “You really have to be able to document why your proposed asset is different than anything similar to it in the country,” he said.
The Interior Department, in a news release, said: “In terms of length, scale of operations, completeness, extensiveness of its steam operations, and state of preservation, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is one of the country’s best surviving examples of a narrow gauge system from the peak of American railroading, roughly 1870 to 1930.”
The Cumbres & Toltec formerly was known as the San Juan Extension of the old Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The Interior Department said it is “one of only two functioning segments of the original 1,000-mile Denver & Rio Grande Railroad network, which was America’s largest, most ambitious, and most successful narrow gauge railroad.”
The train’s locomotives, cars, buildings, and its 64-mile narrow-gauge route all date from the Denver & Rio Grande days. The train chugs over the 10,015-foot-high Cumbres Pass, winds through tunnels and over trestles and snakes along the 800-foot-deep Toltec Gorge, past waterfalls, mountain forests and alpine meadows.
Of the San José de los Jémez Mission and Gíusewa Pueblo site, the Interior Department noted that it is “associated with the spread of Spanish control northward in New Spain into the present-day American Southwest from 1598 to about 1639, and is an early representation of the intersection of European and native cultures.”
The Interior Department’s announcement said that while there are 2,527 designated national historic landmarks across the country, it’s a “select” network — fewer than 3 percent of the properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places are also designated as historic landmarks.
Salazar said: “Each of these landmarks represents a thread in the great tapestry that tells the story of our beautiful land, our diverse culture and our nation’s rich heritage. The designation is the highest recognition bestowed by the executive branch of the federal government and reflects the national importance of the site to the American people.”
The program is administered by the National Park Service.