Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Out and About - Raton

Raton, New Mexico is one of those mining towns that survived the shut down of mines. It was one of the towns that got a railroad. The Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe came to Raton on its way west to the Pacific.

Routing of trains through the wilderness depended upon many factors in the late 1800's: water for the steam engines, coal for the boilers, timber for the ties. And ways across the natural barriers that existed out west. Raton had a pass over the mountains, coal in its mines and water so it was blessed with a railroad that did not go at the time through any of the towns in its name. I am not sure why it skipped around the Kansas towns but it probably had something to do with the size of the right away the builders were granted. In parts of Kansas the railroads were given 20 miles each side of the track.

Many railroad companies competed for routes and the Raton Pass was fought over by the Denver and Rio Grande and the ATSF, who surveyed the pass second but filed first in Washington. But I digress. The ATSF did not go to Santa Fe because it did not have ample water, coal or easily accessible timber. It went to Lamy, New Mexico instead. Much later another company entirely built a spur to the capital of New Mexico.

Raton enjoyed a hayday when the coal mine was employing many and the trains were coming on a regular basis bringing new settlers, cattle from over grazed areas, sheep, and building materials for the train and the train executives. In a couple years time after the railroad arrived so did four million cattle and almost as many sheep. And timber and coal left by the train load. William deBuys writes passionately about this period in his book Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range.

Raton today teeters on the edge of becoming a ghost town. That it is the Colfax County Seat has been at times the only thing that saved it. Interstate 25 skirts around its edge on its travels from Albuquerque to Denver. The trains still go through but not all stop. The overgrazed land from all those cattle and sheep is beginning to come back with good management. But the railroad spur that was to go from Raton to Taos was never built. And the "resort town" of Ute Park where the train did go suffered a decline and the tracks taken up.

Now Raton is struggling to become an art colony and will be part of the Trails, Trains and Treasures Art Trail beginning this summer. Tough economic times certainly don't help but there is talk of the Railrunner, a light rail commuter train, coming into town. And some of the beautiful old buildings like the one above are being restored; I hope lovingly.


  1. Your discription of Raton led me to looking it up on Google maps. It is in such a remote location up there in the northeast corner of the state. I can see why the railroad was so important to its survival. I do hope those lovely old buildings are preserved. When we observe Europe and we sse truly ancient sites, it should remind us that it's important to preserve our own history.

  2. When I was in college at UNM my folks lived in Denver. I used to take the Greyhound home on holidays which included Christmas of course and Raton Pass at that time of year is frequently closed. I have many a harrowing memory going over that pass or hours spent in the bus station waiting for the pass to be plowed.

    I live about an hour and 20 minutes from Raton now.

  3. The thoughts of those harrowing trips brought back plenty of memories for me. The one thing I really dislike about winter.


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