Corvette Road Trip - Desert Storming

Strafing the American Southwest in a paddle-shift C6

View Full Gallery

Today, this history is there for all to see and taste. In addition to the wonderful food and cultural activities, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is the finest and most spectacular example of a steam-era mountain railroad in North America. The railroad's equipment and the vast landscapes of the Colorado-New Mexico border exist as if they were frozen in the first half of the 20th century.

Vemp 1109 07 Corvette Road Trip 2/12

Built 127 years ago, the Cumbres is a 64-mile, fully operational steam railroad. In the fall, the route provides beautiful views of changing aspen as the train wends its way across the mountainous terrain. We elected to take a motor coach from Chama to Antonito, Colorado, and then take the train downhill back to Chama.

What a ride! The old train, chugged, swayed, and clacked its way down the mountain, at one point reaching a breathtaking top speed of 19 mph. The coal-fired 1920s Baldwin steam engine just chugged away, never missing a beat. There are only three of these locomotives that still run, and the Cumbres has two of them.

One of the coolest things about this old line is that several of the valleys it runs above are accessible only by train or "unimproved" dirt roads. Another neat thing is that it really is a mountain railroad that hugs the tops of canyons and valleys as it chugs its way to Chama.

Vemp 1109 08 Corvette Road Trip 3/12

We spent two delightful days in this cool mountain town before the road again called. So we packed the Vette and headed out, our route to be established as we went. Somehow we wound up going through Gunnison, Alamosa, and back to Antonito. More gorgeous views and serpentine roads greeted us, and the C6's six-speed, paddle-shift automatic made for thrilling driving along the way. At Tres Piedras, we cut onto U.S. 64 to see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Located about 10 miles west of Taos, New Mexico, this bridge towers a vertigo-inducing 650 feet above the BLM-administered Rio Grande. The site is popular with whitewater rafters, thanks to the fast-moving currents and breathtaking scenery. (We used to call this area the "Winnebago Rapids," in honor of the hapless visitor who forgot to set his brakes and watched his Winnie go over the side of the bridge and plunge into the river below.)

From the bridge, we took the short drive into Taos and stopped at Michael's, an outstanding place to eat with a world-class bakery. After downing two delectable chocolate éclairs and obtaining some fresh-baked cookies for the road, we headed out once again, this time for Mora, New Mexico.

Vemp 1109 09 Corvette Road Trip 4/12

If you're a Louis L'Amour fan, then Mora should ring a bell. It was the home of the Sackett clan, whose members starred in many a shoot-'em-up. Located at more than 7,100 feet, Mora is still a quiet little village and a great place to visit. From here, we headed to Las Vegas, New Mexico, for a good night's sleep.

We were starting to get homesick at this point and decided to wrap up our road trip by heading for Sumner—near Clovis, New Mexico—and then home. Our C6 had run like a champ the whole way, pulling an average fuel economy of 29.4 mpg according to the trip computer. Unfortunately, the combination of regular rain and windblown desert grit meant the car was also was positively filthy before we even started back through Texas.

Fort Sumner's mission was the internment of Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indians from 1863 through 1868. The fort was closed in 1868, then sold to a prominent New Mexico landowner. In 1870, the man's son befriended legendary outlaw William H. Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. It was in this house that the Kid was reportedly killed by Pat Garrett, and his body is said to be buried in the old military cemetery at the fort.

Vemp 1109 10 Corvette Road Trip 5/12

From Fort Sumner it was a short hop to Clovis and Cannon AFB. Cannon is named after a former Commander of the Tactical Air Command and is currently the home of the 27th AFSOC (Air Force Special Operations Command). Its mission includes infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special-operations forces; air refueling of special-ops rotary-wing and tilt-rotor aircraft; and precision fire support. As a retired National Guard Master Sergeant who flew in C-130s, I found the base's V-22 Ospreys, AC-130H gunships, and MC-130H Combat Talon IIs to be particularly impressive.

Finally, we turned our Corvette east from Clovis and eventually arrived home in Kerrville, Texas, where it was cool and raining. Kind of figures, huh?


Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print