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New Mexico: Older Tourists Skip Driving, Take Train

Grownups and train buffs can explore desert vistas, mountains and Anglo, Indian and Hispanic cultures in the “land of enchantment” via railroad.

You don’t have to be a young person, a hiker, a skier or even a car driver to become enchanted with the fifth largest state among the 50. A great way to appreciate New Mexico’s cultural diversity and scenery is to take your time and try out its railroads. Here are a few suggestions for a visit, whether you have been there before or not.

Getting To and Through New Mexico on Amtrak

Those who hate to drive long distances or who don’t like to fly if they don’t have to can come to New Mexico on Amtrak’s Southwest Limited, which runs from Chicago to Los Angeles.

This sleeper train stops in New Mexico at Raton, Las Vegas (the New Mexico one, not the Nevada one), Lamy, Albuquerque and Gallup.

From Lamy, the Lamy Shuttle bus service is on call to take visitors from the Lamy Amtrak stop to Santa Fe. Once there, there are municipal buses to every important place from “Museum Hill” to Wal-Mart, so you do not need a car to visit this 400-year-old treasure of a state capitol.

Many of the best hotels and museums are on or within a short walk of the plaza, which is the heart of Santa Fe downtown. There is also an express bus to Taos from Santa Fe, plus the Capital cab taxi service

Rail Runner and Santa Fe Southern in Santa Fe

Another possibility: the Rail Runner, beauty of a light rail system between Santa Fe that heads south to Albuquerque and all the way to Belen. Although its schedule has been abbreviated so it accommodates commuters more than it does tourists, it is a grand way to see the majestic pinion/juniper desert of the north and central part of the state.

Yet another: in Santa Fe, climb aboard the Santa Fe Southern Railway, which runs from downtown Santa Fe along the 129-year old spur to Galisteo Station, which is the present day Lamy. That’s where the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe of the turn of the century left passengers off who were headed to Santa Fe, having bypassed the capitol because of steep grades. There is a history lesson given on board every journey.

Narrow-gauge travel from Chama

Finally, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad out of Chama, in northern New Mexico bills itself as “America’s highest and longest coal-fired, steam-operated, narrow-gauge railroad.” It chugs along to Antonito, in southern Colorado from May to October and is a favorite of railroad buffs, who enjoy its machinery and its history, as well as the high lonesome desert scenery outside. Specials include trains led by Cinder Bear, which are trips especially for young children.