Setting off for Alamosa. With a train of boxcars and gondolas that was assembled in the yard at the 10,000 ft high Cumbres Pass Yard, Work Extra 315 departs eastbound for Alamosa, seen here just a railroad mile east of the pass, running circuitous loop of track popularly known as "Tanglefoot Curve." The morning murk in the high country has begun to break, and some rays of hard sunlight poke though between the boxcars as our train weaves its way through this model railroad-like feature of the old D&RGW.
Known in the early days as the "Cumbres Loop" or "The Balloon", the Tanglefoot Curve is a mile-and-a-half-long, hair-pin curve that's shaped a little bit like the boot of Italy. In the photo above, you are looking south, toward the apex of the curve. The track above and to the right leads down from Cumbres Pass. The train descends (or ascends, depending upon direction) at a 2.5% grade, which sounds pretty steep, but is much more gentle than the 4% from Chama, NM to Cumbres Pass. This curve allows the train to make the substantial change (well over 100 ft.) in elevation required to step up or down from the Los Pinos Valley to or from Cumbres Pass. This technique was used numerous times by the D&RG Engineers on this line to help traverse some of the rather abrupt terrain changes that exist between Chama, NM and Antonito, CO. The Los Pinos Curve and the famous "Whiplash" are other equally spectacular examples. When you see it in-person, the whole thing looks a bit like someone's crazy model railroad layout....and when photographed from a distance, it looks even more so. Take a look at the RP Map feature to see what this curve looks like from above.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad are all that remains of the legendary Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge system. Here you'll find some of my favorites from these two beautiful railways.