Charmed by Chama, New Mexico

Why am I writing about New Mexico, you ask? This is the third installment in a three-part series I have written about my experience on the Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad, a train that runs on 64 miles of track between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico. My photographer friend, Alanna Brake, and I boarded in Antonito and rode to Chama (read about our train ride experience here).

Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad, Charmed by Chama, engine 492 sitting in the rail yard at Chama. Photo by Lucky Brake, Ltd.
The rail yard in Chama, New Mexico. Photo by Lucky Brake, Ltd.

By the time our train pulled into Chama, a woodland town tucked into the Rocky Mountains just 8 miles south of the Colorado border, a thunderstorm was in full swing. Lanna and I grabbed our backpacks and made a sprint for our ride in the parking lot.

Lee Bates, owner of the Gandy Dancer Inn, was hosting us for the evening and drove us the short distance to the bed and breakfast. Lee is also the marketing director for the Cumbres & Toltec and had been on the train with us that day. At the inn we were greeted by his wife, Dee, who gave us a tour of the Victorian house that was built in 1902.

Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad, Charmed by Chama, Gandy Dancer Inn. Photo by Lucky Brake Photography
Gandy Dancer Inn in Chama, New Mexico. Photo Lucky Brake, Ltd.

The name, Gandy Dancer, is a slang term for early railroad workers who laid and maintained railroad tracks. Interestingly, the home was originally built for the Reddington family who were involved with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line, the predecessor to the Cumbres & Toltec. It is not surprising that the family had railroad ties since Chama has been a railway town since 1881.

The Grandy Dancer Inn has all the comforts of home and while it has lots of Victorian charm, it’s not overly flouncy and I think even the most manly of men will feel at home here. Lanna and I enjoyed the selection of hot drinks available in the dining room at any time and treated ourselves to several tasty teas during our stay.

That evening we dined with Lee and Dee at High Country Restaurant and Saloon. The Bates’ have a long history in the hospitality business and have run everything from hotels to a dude ranch, and they are not short on fascinating stories. If they wrote a book I would definitely read it. When you meet them, ask about the Gandy Dancer ghost, if you dare.

For dinner I had a burger smothered in green chili. In Colorado we called these “sloppers.” It was absolutely delicious.

That evening, despite dinner time ghost stories, I slept like a rock – it had been a long and exciting day and I was exhausted. Lanna and I were sharing a comfy room with two beds and a bathroom, the perfect option for families or friends traveling together.

The view from our room at the Gandy Dancer Inn. Charmed by Chama,
The view from our room at the Gandy Dancer Inn. Photo by

The next morning we were treated to one of Lee’s famous breakfasts. He even served a side of green chili with the scrambled eggs, which won me over completely.

After our big breakfast, Lee gave us a tour of the Chama rail yard and what a charming yard it is. This rail yard boasts the largest number of “rolling cars” of any in the country – around 75. Three hundred to 400 volunteers work for the Cumbres & Toltec each year and they are vital to its continued survival.

We got to meet some of these Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. These folks volunteer their time to work on things like refurbishing an old postal car, a project that took six years to complete. The Friends are comprised of people from around the world who all have very different backgrounds. Their common tie, however, is their love of the Cumbres & Toltec and when you meet them, that love is palpable.

Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad, Charmed by Chama, refurbished postal car at the Chama railyard. Photo by Lucky Brake, Ltd. (2)
Refurbished postal car in rail yard at Chama, New Mexico. Photo by Lucky Brake, Ltd.

This trip will always be a standout in my mind. From our stay in Antonito where we met Cano and the dog I named “Toto,” to our ride on the train to our stay in Chama, it was a trip to remember.

Read the other two posts in this 3-part series:

A scenic railroad like no other

Antonito, Colorado; a train, a castle, Indiana Jones & Toto the dog

Thank you to the  Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad  for hosting us on this trip. And thank you to Lee & Dee for hosting us at the Gandy Dancer Inn.

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