Tracks Across Borders Scenic & Historic Byway
From Durango, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico
|Mileage||124 miles (200 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||2 hours, 58 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Colorado Highways 151 and 172, New Mexico Highway 17, US Highways 160, 550, 64, and 84, Country Road 500, Country Road 551, and Narrow Guage Street|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.||Durango, CO▼, Ignacio, CO▼, Dulce, NM▼, Chama, NM▼, and Pagosa Springs, CO▼|
4.2 average from 5 votes
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This extraordinary drive travels from Durango, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. Flanked by two historic railways and two Native American Reservations, discover a land steeped in history, culture, and stunning natural beauty.
In Durango, climb abroad the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (M2). Experience the Old West on a historic coal-fired, steam train car that has run between Durango and Silverton since 1881. There are a range of excursions for every holiday and season. History buffs and rail enthusiasts will love the 12,000-square-foot D&SNG Railroad Museum which features a dizzying array of artifacts, equipment, tools, maps, rail cars, and model train displays. Sit in the cab of a locomotive, see a working round table, and so much more. The museum is free and you do not have to take a train ride to enter. Depending where you’re coming from, or where you’re going at the end, consider a detour to Four Corners Monument (V1) and stand in four states at once — where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all meet. It is the only location in the United States where four states join like this. There is a small admission fee, visitor center, and Native American artisans selling jewelry, crafts and traditional foods. If you’re a motorcycle fan, Labor Day weekend is host to the annual Ride the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally.
We officially begin the byway by heading south on CO-172, and traveling through the Southern Ute Reservation. In Ignacio, visit the beautifully-designed Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum (M3). Learn the history of the Southern Ute tribe through film presentations, exhibits, a full-size teepee, ceremonial clothing, and a series of rotating exhibits. The museum is free.
From here take the byway spur on CO-151 east to Chimney Rock National Monument (A1). Sitting atop a mesa, this archaeological site is sacred to the Ancestral Puebloans, preserving 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings. The monument is free to enter, but access to the ruins are only permitted with an informative and engaging 2-hour guided tour for which there is a fee. Tours require a short fairly steep hike up, but you will be well rewarded with outstanding 360-degree views of the landscape. The two spires, Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, were used as a celestial observatory and calendar. Plan now for the Major Lunar Standstill, where every 18.6 years, for 3 years afterwards, the moon rises between the spires. Next one begins in 2022. The monument is open May 15-Sept 30.
Back track and turn left onto Trujillo Road to continue the byway. Or, from Chimney Rock National Monument, consider a detour from the byway and head to Pagosa Springs. Named for the hot springs, there are three facilities in town to soak, relax, and restore body and spirit, especially after an active day outdoors. Small-town hospitality, ample lodging, restaurants, and services, make Pagosa Springs a great base. Visit the Fred Harman Art Museum (M6). Harman was one of the founders of the Cowboy Artists of America and creator of the world-famous cartoon strip, “Red Ryder and Little Beaver.” Learn about the Wild West through his art and personal artifacts. Don’t miss the short trail to nearby Treasure Falls (A6). The waterfalls are spectacular year-round, and in winter are transformed to a magical frozen sculpture. How about downhill skiing amid jaw-dropping views of the San Juans? Head south on US-160 to Wolf Creek Ski Area (H1). Boasting “The most snow in Colorado”, you’ll also find a Nordic Track, snowboarding, ski lessons, restaurants and lodging. You can return to the byway by heading south on US-84. Passing through Pagosa Springs is also the recommended route in inclement weather and road conditions.
We continue the drive from Trujillo Road. Stop at Navajo State Park (H2) which spans Colorado on the Piedra River, and New Mexico on the Navajo Reservoir. Both areas are popular for water-recreation such as boating, jet-skiing, water-skiing, sailing and fishing. The reservoir does not freeze and you can boat year-round. Enjoy trails for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching. In winter, if conditions are right, explore on cross-country skis. It’s the perfect getaway destination with camping, cabin and yurt rentals.
The byway parallels the San Juan River and passes two ghost towns. Both are on private property and if curious, they must be viewed from the roadside. At Pagosa Junction, observe a water tower, narrow gauge hopper car, and truss bridge. At Juanita, observe an abandoned Catholic Mission and other buildings.
Crossing into New Mexico, look for views of Archuleta Mesa to the east. In Dulce, visit the Jicarilla Arts and Crafts Shop Museum (M5) to observe and buy intricate Jicarilla beadwork, baskets, pottery, and paintings.
The byway heads to Chama, home to the Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (A3) was originally constructed in 1880 to serve silver mining interests. An engineering feat at the time, the track travels by deep gorges, over Cumbres Pass at an elevation of 10,022-feet, and across trestle bridges. The railway is based in Chama, New Mexico, and travels to and from Antonito in Colorado daily. Ride the narrow-gauge steam train on a full or half day trip, or board one of their excursions such as a sunset dinner train or Christmas train. Outdoor recreation includes fishing, kayaking, and white-water-rafting on Rio Chama, 25-miles of which have been designated a Wild and Scenic River. Simply breathtaking views await at Heron Lake State Park (H3). The reservoir is designated a “quiet lake” with no-wake boating, creating a serene spot for swimming, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, windsurfing, and standup paddle-boarding. Explore the cliff walls, home to thousands of swallows, and hike or bike the trails watching for herons, mule deer, and bald eagles. In winter, trails are open for cross-country skiing. There is a 5.5-mile trail that connects to El Vado Lake State Park (H4). At El Vado Lake State Park, boat speeds are not restricted and you’ll find great fishing and water-skiing, as well as a playground and equestrian trails. Both parks offer tent and RV campsites. All New Mexico State Parks charge a day use fee.
The drive officially ends in Chama. Continue the adventure in Colorado on the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway, or in New Mexico on the Enchanted Circle or Jemez Mountain Trail. New Mexico claims the invention of the Breakfast Burrito, just one more reason to road trip!