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Sand Dunes, Ghost Railroad and the Trip Home

by Chris Guenzler

After that fantastic trip on the San Luis Central and saying goodbye to our other passengers, Chris Parker and I drove east on US 160 to Alamosa. We stopped at Arby's for lunch before driving to where the San Luis and Rio Grande motive power is kept in Alamosa.

Line of San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad power.

SLRG F-40PH 453.

SLRG F-40PH 459.

We also saw the former Rio Grande station.

We also saw the Historic St. Marys Railroad F10 1100, a former Gulf, Mobile and Ohio F3. On the way out of Alamosa we stopped at a railroad display.

Rio Grande 4-6-0 169 and a few cars sit under cover at Cole Park. We continued east on US 160 before turning north onto Colorado 150 for a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Road construction caused us some delay as we waited for an escort vehicle. While we waited we took a few pictures.

The construction lasted all the way to the park entrance.

Great Sand Dunes National Park 10/29/2006

A sign at the front gate said to pay inside the Visitor Center so we made that our first stop in the park.

After we had paid, we took a few pictures from the balcony outside the Visitor Center. How did all these sand dunes get here? The prevailing wind is from the southwest across the San Luis Valley and the sand is deposited here. Powerful storm winds then blow off the mountains blowing the sand back into the San Luis Valley. The Medano and Sand Creeks are the barriers on both sides of the dune field. Any sand that the creeks carry is deposited where the creeks go underground and the winds then return the sand to the dunes. Natural recycling done by Mother Nature most wonderfully. We drove to the Dunes parking area for a hike out onto the dunes.

Our hike started with the crossing of Medano Creek which was still covered with a light layer of snow which meant you had to walk carefully.

Snow was still covering the lower dunes.

The dunes with Mount Herard behind.

I took a pictures of the dunes with Mount Herard, Mount Blanca, Ellingwood Point and Carbonate Mountain.

The view towards the top of the dunes.

There were interesting shadows in the dune field

Chris Parker in the Granduer of it All! We decided not to hike all the way to the top as our views this high up were incredible.

Another interesting dune view.

The view looking down into the San Luis Valley was stunning.

Contrast abound!

Mount Herard. As you can tell by the pictures this place is very interesting. We hiked back down to the parking lot and a bathroom stop was made before we headed to our next stop at Blanca.

Cleveland Peak.

The sand dunes really stood out against the mountains behind them.

The western end of the sand dunes runs into the San Luis Valley.

While waiting for the escort vehicle, we took several pictures and more construction delays yielded a few more. We drove back down Colorado 150 to US 160 east to the little town of Blanca, our next stop.

San Luis Southern: A Ghost Railroad 10/29/2006

We took the first right in town and crossed the San Luis and Rio Grande tracks, whose rails we rode yesterday, before spotting a pair of cross bucks but no rails. We parked here after we spotted the home-built locomotive of the San Luis Southern at an abandoned industrial site.

A brief history

The railroad was incorporated July 3, 1909 as the San Luis Southern Railway and opened a rail line from Blanca to Jaroso, Colorado. The company was reorganized as the San Luis Valley Southern Railroad in 1928 and was again sold and reorganized as the Southern San Luis Valley Railroad Co. on December 11, 1953. All of the line, except the last 1.53 miles, was closed and dismantled in 1958. Operations of the SSLV ceased some time late in 1994, although the track remains in place.

Tracking a Ghost Railroad 10/29/2006

Walking toward the engine, I soon discovered the tracks.

Next came upon a switch with the switch stand still remaining. I made my way towards the unique engine.

San Luis Southern D-500 was powered by a 1,091 cubic inch International Harvester engine using a hydraulic transmission. This powered the Euclid truck axle that was used to transmit power to the chains for the axles. A turret cab provided maximum visibility. It was built in 1954/1955 by San Luis Southern workers.

More views of the SLS D-500.

Behind the D-500 is the remains of Plymouth ML8, ex. Utah Power and Light, bought in 1977. The gasoline engine was removed in 1980 so that a caterpillar engine could be installed, but the work never finished, so it has remained here since. Once we finished photographing these unique engines, we left them to the winds of time and walked back to the car.

A picture of our rental car.

We also found a cross buck with SLSR lettering on it.

We found the remains of some of the track that once went south from Blanca. After having great success at this ghost railroad, we headed back to US 160 and went over La Veta Pass to Walsenburg.

Here we photographed the old Colorado & Southern station.

We looked at the junction with the BNSF and UP curving off to become the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad. From there it was back down Interstate 25 to Trinidad.

At sunset, we pulled off the freeway at Trinidad before we went to the Best Western Trinidad Inn.

Trinidad 10/29/2006

We pulled into the Best Western Trinidad Inn after 5:20 PM and checked in. They gave us the directions to the best restaurant in town and we drove into town but could not find it. We stopped at a gas station and Chris went in to get revised directions. Still not finding it, we parked and I decided to go into a bar on Main Street to ask about it. Just as I was about to enter the bar, the power went out in most of Trinidad. Inside the bar, I learned that the restaurant was closed on Sundays. We drove through a darkened Trinidad looking for something to eat. There were lights in the northern part of town, but no place to eat. The east side of town had nothing, but back down by the train station, a McDonald's had lights, so that would have to be it. Chris then spotted a Shell station which had a Subway inside, where we bought some food to go. Driving back to the hotel in the dark was an adventure as we missed the driveway. A wise turn by me led us back to the hotel just as the power returned. Back inside the room about twenty minutes later, the power went out again. The only light we had been was provided by our digital cameras while we reviewed our pictures in the darkness. It made for an interesting part of the evening. The power was restored and we were watching a PBS program on African trains when that cable station was lost. A restful night of sleep was then had.

10/30/2006 After a good continental breakfast, along with TV programs on the Salem Witch Trails and Three Deadly Women on the History Channel, we checked out. On the way to the gas station, Chris spotted a railroad display here in Trinidad and we stopped to have a look.

The train had CB&Q (C&S) 2-4-0 638, C&S Coach 545 and CB&Q Caboose 10507. We fuelled up the rental car at Shell before we settled up with JJ Motors. They let us drive the car back to the Amtrak station and I took pictures of it.

Views of the Trinidad Amtrak Station. Looking down the tracks east I spotted a building with a Santa Fe symbol on it. I decided to walk down and get a picture of it.

This building might have been the Santa Fe freight house in Trinidad.

I took a picture of the Purgatoire River which flows through Trinidad with the old C&S bridge in the background. The BN relocated their tracks here a few years ago to eliminate crossing the Santa Fe at grade which also eliminated long BN coal trains cutting the town in two.

I called Julie trying to get an arrival time for the Southwest Chief and finally got the word it left La Junta at 9:10 AM, forty minutes late. I walked over to the Shell station to get a Subway sandwich and cookies for lunch before Chris walked over there to get something for his sinuses. It was a windy morning as I sat on the station platform. Julie's ETA time came and went.

The trees in Trinidad were losing their leaves as autumn had taken hold here. I called Amtrak and a real agent made a call to operations, telling me they waited on a late crew and slow orders from the blizzard the night we arrived in Colorado, but the train would be arriving shortly.

Southwest Chief 3 10/30/2906

The train finally arrived in Trinidad at 11:46 AM {9:50 AM} with Engines 181, 131 and 147, Baggage 1228, Sleepers 32038, 32056 and 32066, Diner 38039, Lounge 33003 and Coaches 31046, 34079 and 34134. Chris and I boarded the 34079 and after our tickets were taken, we both headed to the lounge car. We enjoyed our sandwiches as I pointed out highlights of the crossing of Raton Pass to Chris. After Raton Tunnel I returned to my seat. At a windy Raton, I stepped off for some fresh air. When I had my ticket taken by my car attendant, I asked about upgrading to a sleeper. At French, New Mexico, the conductor visited me and so for $167, I got Room 8 in the 331 Car {32056}. My conductor helped me bring my bags from the coach all the way to my room. We passed Chris in the lounge car and I updated him as to what was going on. I was listening to the Jethro Tull Extra Thick as a Brick bonus material as Glen, my sleeping car attendant, stopped by to introduce himself. At Las Vegas we made a prolonged stop. Later at Chapelle we met the eastbound Southwest Chief. I made a 6:30 PM dinner reservation.

A view below the "S" curves.

The view towards Glorieta Pass.

The train later crossed the Pecos River at the bottom of the grade. I rode in the lounge car over Glorieta Pass, Apache Canyon and past Lamy with Chris, who had a 7:05 PM flight home. I hoped and prayed the train would get him to Albuquerque with enough time to make his flight. The sun set and we made our way into Albuquerque arriving at 5:53 PM {4:05 PM}. I beat Chris to the bus stop where I learned that the 6:07 PM bus to the airport arrives at 6:27 PM. I told him to take a cab and said my goodbyes to him. He made his flight and was home by the time I was in Winslow.

I enjoyed the fresh air before being called into the dining car at 6:20 PM for dinner. Richard Talmy, the former wonderful Parlour Attendant on the Coast Starlight, was my waiter. I was seated with Barbara from Alamosa and Bee and Conrad from Colorado Springs, all going to Los Angeles. We departed Albuquerque at 6:34 PM {4:45 PM}. The pork shanks were excellent and I enjoyed a chocolate bundt cake for dessert along with excellent conversation. An after-dinner shower really felt good before I returned to my room for an evening of music. After Gallup, I made my bed and called it a night.

10/31/2006 I awoke just prior to Victorville, arriving there at 5:56 AM {4:08 AM} then proceeded to the dining car, with Al going to San Diego, Carolyn going to Salinas and Conrad again. The meal lasted from Victorville to Devore, so I enjoyed Cajon Pass and the sunrise along the descent into the clouds.

The French Toast and Sausage was excellent and really hit the spot. After breakfast, we stopped at San Bernardino and Riverside before we made the final sprint into Fullerton. At Corona, I changed into my work clothes and prepared to arrive into Fullerton which we did at 8:22 AM {6:24 AM}. I walked over the bridge to Track 2 and left a message at home that I was in Fullerton.

The Southwest Chief left Fullerton for its final sprint into Los Angeles Union Station.

Next, Surfliner 763 on its way to Goleta stopped in Fullerton, while I waited for Metrolink 600 to arrive to take me to Santa Ana.

Metrolink 600 10/31/2006

The train pulled into Fullerton early and I loaded my bags into the cab car. We stopped in Anaheim and Orange before we arrived in Santa Ana, ending yet another rail adventure. Time for me to head to work!