This fall, groups of senior tourists will have an opportunity to experience how the wild, wild West was tamed by the iron horse when Colorado State University and Elderhostel collaborate on a fall field studies program called "Seven Rails of Colorado."
The journey will take passengers through Colorado’s most beautiful landscapes on seven of the state’s historic rails: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge, Georgetown Loop, Pike’s Peak Cog Railway, Royal Gorge Incline, Royal Gorge Route and the Glenwood Canyon Amtrak. Also included is a visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument via dune coach and the San Juan Mountains by way of motor coach and 4-wheel drive.
"This program gives tourists a unique view of Colorado history," said Bill Bertschy, director of Colorado State’s Pingree Park mountain campus. "Railroads were vitally important to the growth of the West. Out here, the iron horse did more than help existing small towns to grow, they were the primary reason for towns to be built at all. These pioneer railroads transformed a remote, frontier territory into a state in less than a generation."
In 1870, the biggest and most well known of all the Colorado railroads, the Denver and Rio Grande, was incorporated by William J. Palmer. Palmer was the first to introduce a narrow-gauge track 3 feet in width as opposed to the standard 4 feet 8 1/2 inch gauge. This narrower gauge could not only be laid for about two-thirds the cost of the standard gauge, but it also seemed perfect for the Colorado terrain since it could handle tighter curves and steeper grades.
In fact, two of the world’s most outstanding examples of narrow-gauge passenger trains operate in Colorado. America’s highest and longest narrow-gauge, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, climbs and winds for more than 63 miles between Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Co. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge, which has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1882, still uses coal and antique narrow-gauge equipment. A large, spacious railyard, a traditional roundhouse and repair shops have been built in Durango to build or repair all parts for the antique trains.
The eight-night program begins and ends in Denver with nightly stops in Colorado Springs, Canon City, Alamosa, Pagosa Springs, Ouray and Glenwood Springs. Experts from Colorado State will offer lectures and commentary on the history and scenery, the engineering achievements and the human sacrifice involved in settling the mountains and prairies of Colorado.
The program includes double occupancy modern lodging with private baths, all meals, transportation arrangements, tickets, and special tours. Departure dates are Sept. 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.
Elderhostel was founded in 1975 and is America’s premiere non-profit provider of high-quality educational opportunities for older adults, age 55 and up.
Colorado State regularly collaborates with other institutions and for special travel programs. The university has teamed with Elderhostel since 1983 to coordinate special travel programs which highlight the beauty and captivating history of Colorado. Other collaborative programs include: "Photographing Nature and Wildlife in the Rocky Mountains," which takes participants through the scenic wonders of Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks; "Along the Santa Fe Trail," which traces parts of the Mountain Route of the historic trail used by Native Americans, mountainmen, immigrants and soldiers for more than a century; and the "Mystical San Luis Valley," where the West meets the Hispanic Southwest. This program explores the history of the rich Spanish and Mexican cultures of Colorado’s earliest settlers while visiting the state’s oldest town of San Luis, viewing wildlife preserves and the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and visiting an early home of Kit Carson.
For more information about the "Seven Rails of Colorado" program, or any of the other Elderhostel programs, contact Bertschy at (970) 491-7377 or (970) 881-2150.
To contact Elderhostel, call (877) 426-8056 and ask about program #06165 or online at www.elderhostel.org.