The state of Colorado has many historical tourist sites worth visiting. Below is a list of local and recommended museums, operating tourist railroads in Colorado, natural sites around the Grand Valley and the Rio Grande, and other historic sites near Grand Junction or related to Colorado railroads.
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Table of Contents
Museum of Cross Orchards
The Grand Valley Model Railroad Club is housed at Cross Orchards and thus is deeply connected with this museum.
"At the Museums of Western Colorado’s Cross Orchards Historic Site, you have the opportunity to step back in time. Stroll around the beautiful grounds and experience historic buildings, railroad cars and vintage equipment, and agricultural heritage. The large 1890s built barn/packing shed and bunkhouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With over 12 acres Cross Orchards offers many opportunities. Our facilities can also be rented for weddings, family reunions, corporate meetings, parties, and other events. The packing floor of the barn is 2,400 square feet alone and has additional space in the loading porch area. Modern restrooms and several set up rooms including a specially designed bridal suite are available."
Of particular interest, "Rail fans will delight in the Uintah Railway exhibit and the recreated train depot. The reconstructed Whiskey Creek Trestle is part of a display of cars, an engine and caboose."
Excerpts taken from www.museumsofwesternco.com.
Read More about Cross Orchards
"Today’s 24 acre site, once part of a 243 acre fruit ranch, was operated as an agricultural show case by the Massachusetts-based Red Cross Land and Fruit Company, 1909-1923. With more than 22,000 trees, it was one of the largest in the state when most local orchards averaged nine acres. Most of the fruit ranch was planted in apples, but a few acres of pears and peaches were also grown. Primary apple varieties of the day included Black Twig, Gano, Jonathan, Winesap, Rome Beauty, and Ben Davis.
During peak periods of pruning, picking and packing, the Red Cross Land and Fruit Company often employed more than 50 part-time workers. Most were local citizens who commuted from town or would set up camp for several weeks during the fall harvest. Included in the restored bunkhouse are the kitchen, pantry and cook’s quarters on the west end; the men’s quarters and dining room in the middle; and the carriage room and office on the east end. The large barn/packing shed and bunkhouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since the Museum acquired the original 4.3 acres containing the historic structures in1980, the site has added many additional acres and several ancillary exhibits. The Swanson display contains household effects, farmyard equipment, and an amazing assortment of horse-drawn implements and tools. It encompasses the Swanson Family’s move from Sweden in 1885 to operation of their 40 acre farm south of Loma.
Rail fans will delight in the Uintah Railway exhibit and the recreated train depot. The reconstructed Whiskey Creek Trestle is part of a display of cars, an engine and caboose. From 1904-1939, the Uintah ran from Mack, Colorado to Dragon, Utah. It hauled one of the world’s few commercial sources of gilsonite, a black, lustrous asphalt. Members of the Grand Valley Model Railroaders have displays of HO scale trains representing historic rail lines that ran through Western Colorado. Related Link: National Railroad Historical Society, Rio Grande Chapter.
The Wallace “Boots” Corn Collection of vintage road building and related equipment is also housed at Cross Orchards. With more than 60 pieces, this diverse collection includes horse-drawn scrapers, graders and wagons in addition to steam, gasoline, and diesel-powered equipment. “Boots” established the Corn Construction Company following World War II."
Excerpt taken from www.museumsofwesternco.com.
Museum of the West
The Grand Valley Model Railroad Club was once housed here for its Christmas Show. Museum of the West is part of Museums of Western Colorado, along with Cross Orchards and Dinosaur Journey.
"Experience western Americana at its best through thousand years of history. “Ride” in a stagecoach, “fly” a 1958 Cessna from Walker Field, or gaze upon an ancient cup and ladle from the Anasazi. Study Ute and Fremont Rock Art, see the real firearms that outlaws used, sit in a one-room schoolhouse, and visit the Pastime saloon – all at the Museum of the West!"
Excerpt taken from www.museumsofwesternco.com.
Dinosaur Journey is part of Museums of Western Colorado, along with Cross Orchards and Museum of the West. It is located in Fruita, Colorado.
"Dinosaur Journey is a regional paleontological and geological museum that tells the story of the history of life in western Colorado and surrounding areas with real fossils, cast skeletons, and robotic reconstructions of dinosaurs. The hands-on, interactive museum includes over 15,000 fossil specimens in its collections, exhibits and displays featuring discoveries from the region, a viewable paleontology laboratory where dinosaur bones are prepared for display, an earthquake simulator, a dinosaur library reading, a sandbox for making your own dinosaur tracks, and a “quarry site” where kids can uncover actual Jurassic dinosaur bones."
Excerpt taken from www.museumsofwesternco.com.
Western Colorado Botanical Gardens
The Western Colorado Botanical Gardens leases a 15-acre site along the Colorado River from the City of Grand Junction. Thousands of volunteer hours after thousands of volunteers hours, its tropical greenhouse opened in 1997, before a crowd of 2,500 celebrants. Native butterflies were introduced in 1998 in the (Ashley Furniture) Butterfly House.
The WCBG is home to several specialty gardens including the Cactus Garden, Antique Rose Garden, Children’s Secret Garden, Celebration Plaza, Japanese garden and the gardens that surround its buildings. It even has a Western Heritage Garden where you can learn about local farming history. The tropical rainforest and butterfly house showcase tropical plants and orchids as well as koi fish, turtles, tortoises, and butterflies. As the WCBG grows, more gardens are being developed.
Information from wcbotanic.org.
Colorado Model Railroad Museum
The Grand Valley Model Railroad Club and the Colorado Model Railroad Museum have enjoyed a healthy relationship for many years and we often operate on their layout. We highly recommend visiting the CMRM the next time you are on the Front Range.
"The Colorado Model Railroad Museum is one of the finest, one of a kind miniature accomplishments in the world. This 5,500 sq. feet masterpiece required over five years and 280,000 volunteer hours to complete. Located at the old freight station in Greeley, Colorado, this one of a kind museum has hundreds of railroad sceneries, more than 500 scale locomotives, 80 scale miles of train track, and thousands of other handmade details including around 28,000 handmade trees. The museum houses thousands of artifacts, including a 1919 Colorado and Southern Caboose that you can tour.
Unlike typical model railroads, the museum utilizes an open air design with broad aisles and theatrical lighting, allowing visitors to clearly view the detailed scenery from just inches away. The Colorado Model Railroad Museum utilizes a dispatcher for train operations for the public. These quality characteristics have attracted visitors from all over the world, reaching as far as Australia and New Zealand."
Excerpt taken from cmrm.org.
Colorado Railroad Museum
"The Colorado Railroad Museum is a non-profit railroad museum. The museum is located on 15 acres (6.1 ha) at a point where Clear Creek flows between North and South Table Mountains in Golden, Colorado.
The museum was established in 1959 to preserve a record of Colorado's flamboyant railroad era, particularly the state's pioneering narrow gauge mountain railroads."
Excerpt taken from wikipedia.org.
"In the late 1940s when Colorado’s narrow gauge railroad companies started going out of business, Robert W. Richardson began collecting rolling stock, railway records, and other pieces of equipment in an effort to preserve Colorado history. Bob’s collection quickly outgrew the available space at his Museum in Alamosa, Colorado and in 1958, with the help of his friend Cornelius Hauck, Richardson moved the Museum to Golden, Colorado."
Excerpt taken from www.museumsofwesternco.com.
Ridgway Railroad Museum
"Ridgway, Colorado, long known as the birthplace of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, is the home of a museum dedicated to the preservation of the history of railroading in Ouray County and surrounding areas.
The Ridgway Railroad Museum, located at the junction of U.S. Highway 550 and Colorado State Highway 62 in Ridgway, Colorado, is open every day during the summer months (June 1 through September 30th) from 9 am to 5 pm. During May and October the Museum is open every day from 10 am to 3 pm."
Excerpt taken from www.ridgwayrailroadmuseum.org.
Operating Tourist Railroads
Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad
"Durango, Colorado was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879. The railroad arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881 and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of the same year. By July of 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed, and the train began hauling both freight and passengers.
The line was constructed to haul silver & gold ore from Southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains, but passengers soon realized it was the view that was truly precious.
This historic train has been in continuous operation between Durango and Silverton since 1882, carrying passengers behind vintage steam locomotives and rolling stock indigenous to the line. It is a family-friendly ride sure to create memories that will last a lifetime while offering a view of Colorado's mountain splendor inaccessible by highway. Relive the sights and sounds of yesteryear for a spectacular journey on board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad."
Excerpt taken from www.durangotrain.com.
The Durango & Silverton is a narrow gauge railroad.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
"Hidden away in a little-known corner of the southern Rocky Mountains on the border of New Mexico and Colorado is a precious historic artifact of the American West that time forgot. Built in 1880 and little changed since, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the finest and most spectacular example of steam era mountain railroading in North America. Its equipment, structures and vast landscape exist today as if frozen in the first half of the twentieth century.
The time has long passed when the railroad last hauled precious metals over Cumbres Pass. But its steam locomotives still labor up steep grades carrying visitors over high trestles, through tunnels, and along narrow shelves above yawning gorges."
Excerpt taken from www.cumbrestoltec.org.
The Cumbres & Toltec runs from the cities of Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. It is a narrow guage, steam operated railroad. This is the only location where steam locomotives are double headed.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
The Georgetown Loop makes the perfect break for commuters traveling from Grand Junction to Denver. Time your arrival about 30 minutes before the train's departure. Tickets are cheap and the round trip only takes about an hour and a half. After enjoying the scenery and a well-deserved break you can continue on your journey east.
"To connect Silver Plume and Georgetown, towns located over 2 miles apart, the tracks had to scale an elevation of 640 feet over mountainous terrain, requiring trestles, cuts, fills, loops, and curves totaling 4.5 miles. Today the Loop is once again a popular tourist attraction and an uncommon way to see the Clear Creek Valley. Along the route visitors may stop for guided tours of a historic silver mine. The park is located on 978 acres and includes an 1884 depot, the Morrison Interpretive Center, two 1860s mines, an 1871 mill building, four reconstructed mine buildings, a locomotive maintenance building, the 1874 Pohle House, and a new rolling stock shelter."
Excerpt taken from www.historycolorado.org.
"The Georgetown Loop Railroad® was one of Colorado's first visitor attractions. Completed in 1884, this spectacular stretch of three-foot narrow gauge railroad was considered an engineering marvel for its time. In 1973, the Colorado Historical Society began restoring the railroad as of its 978-acre Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park. "
Excerpt taken from www.georgetownlooprr.com.
The Georgetown Loop is a narrow gauge railroad. It was run by Colorado Central, a major rival of the Denver & Rio Grande.
Royal Gorge Railroad
"The Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River, known as the Royal Gorge, was one of the highlights on the route through the Rockies. The Denver & Rio Grande was then known as the Scenic Line of the World. When surveying parties first examined the route, it seemed impossible to construct a railway through the rugged canyon. The perpendicular granite walls scarcely left room for the river. Blasting away the obstructions, a roadbed was constructed hugging the canyon walls. As the railway progressed, the rugged canyon walls grew higher and higher, the river became a raging torrent to the sea, and areas the sun could not penetrate. At the narrowest point, which is 30 feet wide, a long, iron bridge was suspended from the smooth canyon walls. This became the famed hanging bridge. Passenger trains have stopped at this point for decades to allow passenger to alight and marvel at the sights and sounds of nature and see how man had conquered one of nature’s obstacles.
During the 1890’s, four transcontinental passenger trains a day passed through the Royal Gorge. The original route between Denver and Salt Lake went over Marshall Pass, through Gunnison, Montrose, and Grand Junction. Later, the main line was constructed over Tennessee Pass through Glenwood Springs and into Grand Junction. With the opening of the Moffat Tunnel in 1928, passengers could go either way to Salt Lake. If they chose the Royal Gorge route, they would leave early in the morning arriving at Grand Junction in time for their train to be combined with the overnight Prospector for the run into Salt Lake."
Excerpt taken from www.royalgorgeroute.com.
The Royal Gorge Railroad is a standard guage railroad which operates at Canon City, west of Pueblo, CO, through the Royal Gorge.
Leadville, Colorado & Southern
"Originating in "the highest incorporated city in North America," the LC&S takes passengers along the old Denver, South Park & Pacific and Colorado & Southern lines to the Continental Divide. … This journey is full of breath-taking panoramas across the Arkansas River Valley and humorous narratives about Leadville's colorful past. Mining and railroading were a large part of the local history, and today's passengers will find it easy to step back in time on the Leadville, Colorado & Southern.
The Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad travels north along the Arkansas River Valley, it raises up 1,000 feet off the valley floor so that you will have some spectacular views of Freemont Pass and the two tallest peaks in Colorado, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert. Also, take time to hear about the fascinating history of the railroads, ghost stories and tales of the wild from the conductor on board the trip.
Other highlights include a chance to meet the engineer, take a tour of the caboose and engine. If you come in July and August warm weather exceeds expectations at 75°, it is not surprising to find snow through June and in late September. Although cool, the fall colors are not to be missed with amazing displays of gold, red and orange Aspen trees lighting up the mountain side."
Excerpt taken from www.leadville-train.com.
The LC&S is a standard gauge railroad that runs from Leadville towards Climax, CO.
Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway
The Manitou & Pikes Peak has reopened after it tore out their century-old track and replaced it with new track, complete with signaling systems and remote controlled switches. It's the perfect time to visit this railway.
"The Broadmoor's Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway holds a unique distinction as the highest cog railway in the world. Wonder how this legendary Pikes Peak train came to take visitors to the top of America’s Mountain? One of the tourists who visited the Pikes Peak region in the late 1880s was Zalmon Simmons, inventor and founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company. Mr. Simmons rode to the summit of Pikes Peak on a mule. The arduous, two-day trip was the only way to reach the top in those days. Mr. Simmons was awed by the scenery but determined that the views should be experienced in a more civilized and comfortable manner. Thus, the railway was born.
In 1889, the Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway Company was founded and track construction began. Top wages were 25 cents per hour. This was no easy feat as six workers died in blasting and construction accidents. On the afternoon of June 30th, 1891, the first passenger Pikes Peak train, carrying a church choir from Denver, made it to the summit for the first time. Spencer Penrose, the owner of The Broadmoor Hotel, acquired the Railway in 1925."
Excerpt taken from www.visitcos.com.
The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway is a cog railway that operates from Manitou (Colorado Springs) to the top of Pikes Peak.
Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Update: The Rio Grande Scenic ceased operations in late 2019 after a wildfire damaged their facilities and the parent company, San Luis & Rio Grande, declared bankruptcy. An archive of their website can be accessed here.
"The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad begins in Alamosa, CO, and travels over La Veta Pass on historic tracks that were completed on June 22, 1878. Alamosa was quickly put on the map thanks to this narrow gauge rail that supplied ore, lumber, cattle, sheep, and farm products to the developing valley and, in turn, shipped out agricultural and mining products.
From 1890 to 1950, Alamosa hummed day and night with the activity of both passenger and freight trains from Denver, Durango, Santa Fe, Salida, and Creede. After the 1950s, the track was used exclusively for freight until it became part of Premier Rail Collection in 2006."
Excerpt taken from www.coloradotrain.com.
The Rio Grande Scenic is a standard gauge railroad. There is a 30 minute drive from Alamosa to Cumbres & Toltec's Antonito.
Other Recommended Sites
There are many other sites within the Grand Junction area and the Colorado/Utah area that are worth visiting.
The Colorado National Monument borders Grand Junction on the west side. It was declared by President Taft, who had visited the area, in 1911.
Four Corners National Monument is where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. It is the only place in the United States where the borders of four states meet.
Note: U.S. Parks Passes are not accepted here because the Monument is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
The Dinosaur National Monument is in the northwest corner of the state on US 40. The monument is in both Colorado and Utah and the entrance is just across the state line in Jensen, UT.
The Grand Mesa is the worlds largest flat top mountain and is over 10,000 ft. above sea level with over 300 lakes on its top. It is one of Grand Junction's most iconic mountains along with Mt. Garfield.
The Parcel Post Bank in Vernal, UT
U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs
Ouray, America's Little Switzerland
U.S. Mint, Denver
North of Denver on Interstate 25, just across the Wyoming Colorado state line in Cheyenne, WY is the Union Pacific railroad shops where steam engine # 844 is stored.