About Chama

History

The Village of Chama lies in the Upper Chama River Valley in northern New Mexico, nestled below the San Juan Mountains in some of New Mexico’s finest Rocky Mountain scenery. The area has been home to humans for over 1,000 years. The Tewa Puebloans were the first to inhabit the valley, descendants of whom still live in the lower Chama River valley today. They developed extensive networks of communal irrigation canals called acequias, allowing them to grow crops successfully, many of which are still used for farming today.

After Spaniards established the first settlement in the West near the confluence of the Chama River and the Rio Grande, in the late 1500s, the Chama River Valley was opened up to European expansion, and settlements moved up the valley. At the same time, nomadic bands of the Ute Tribe frequented the Chama area, hunting the abundant wildlife and occasionally raiding the more established Tewa tribes. As Europeans began to settle in the valley, some of them made alliances with the Tewa, and together resisted Ute raids.

While Spain controlled the region as a colony, the government made land grants to its citizens to encourage settlement. The U.S. won control of New Mexico with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American war. American control allowed for a new wave of settlement. A military fort was established just south of Chama in 1866. Chama proper was sparsely populated by miners, loggers, and sheep and cattle grazers until, in 1880, construction began on a railroad that would travel Alamosa, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado via Cumbres Pass, just north of Chama. A railroad spur was built to serve Chama itself, and initiated a booming period of construction and commerce. Originally used to transport coal, lumber, and sheep, it now operates seasonally as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, taking visitors on a stream train to experience a bit of the Old West and its fantastic mountain scenery.

In 1887, a reservation was established just west of Chama for the Jicarilla Apache Nation, which was forced from its indigenous home of the Arkansas and Platte Rivers in Colorado. Today, this is the most prevalent tribe in the area, and it attracts visitors from around the world with its prime hunting, fishing, and hiking opportunities. Chama itself has also become a destination for outdoor recreation. The high-elevation, lush meadows support ample wildlife, and its rivers and streams attract anglers. As land use has changed, the economy is now based less on ranching and farming and more on tourism. Outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike are attracted here, thanks to the abundant recreation opportunities and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. A small but diverse community that values its natural and cultural heritage, Chama is northern New Mexico’s hidden treasure, and you will surely enjoy a visit on your CDT trip.

Information courtesy of the Chama Valley Chamber of Commerce, Rio Arriba County, and the Village of Chama.

Stats

Elevation: 7,871’
Population: 1,022 (2010 Census)

The Essentials: Where to Stay and Eat

Lodging

This page has a comprehensive list. The following are popular with hikers:
Cumbres Suites: 2042 S Hwy 17, (575) 756-9139
Chama Trails Inn: 2362 Hwy 17, (575) 756-2156
*Chama Station Inn: 432 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2315
El Meson: 2667 South Highway 84-64, (575) 756-2114
Twin Rivers RV Park & Campground: Jct Hwy 84 & 64, behind the Chevron Station, (575) 756-2218
*Foster’s Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon: 393 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2296
*Y Motel:  2450 US-84, (575) 756-2166

Food

Dining
Foster’s Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon: 393 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2296
*Box Car Café: 423 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2706
*Fina’s Diner: 2298 NM-17, (575) 756-9195
High Country Restaurant: 2289 NM-17, (575) 756-2384
Feliciano’s Home Run Pizza: 1201 NM-17, (575) 756-1008
Patsy’s Choo-Choo Ice Cream: 601 NM-17, (575) 756-2833

Grocery
Lowe’s Supermarket: 2451 US-84, (575) 756-2545
Family Dollar: 921 NM-17, (575) 756-1420

Drink

Coffee
*Box Car Café: 423 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2706
Libations
Foster’s Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon: 393 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2296
*The Brew House: 587 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-1259

*Indicates a business that offers a special discount for CDT Thru-Hikers and/or CDTC Members – show your CDTC Member card!

Other Resources: Gear, Information, etc.

Outdoor Gear

Lowe’s Supermarket: 2451 US-84, (575) 756-2545

Internet

Chama Visitor Center: 2372 NM-17 (Jct Hwy 84 & 64), (575) 756-2235
Eleanor Daggett Memorial Library: 299 4th St, (575) 756-2388

Post Office

Chama Post Office: 199 5th St W, Chama, NM 87520. (575) 756-2240
Mailing yourself a package? Be sure to use the above address and include your name.
M-F 8 AM – 1 PM and 2 PM – 5 PM, Sat 10 AM – 12 PM, Closed Sunday

Showers

Foster’s Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon: 393 S Terrace Ave, (575) 756-2296
$5 Showers for non-guests

Laundry

Speed Queen Laundry: 400 Pine Ave, (575) 756-2479

Information

Chama Visitor Center: 2372 NM-17 (Jct Hwy 84 & 64), (575) 756-2235

Transportation & Trail Access

Getting Here

The Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) is serviced by most major airlines. Both the NM Rail Runner Express and the Sandia Shuttle Xpress provide transportation between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, including the Albuquerque airport. The North Central Regional Transit District connects Santa Fe to Española on Routes 160 and 220. From Española, Route 190 connects to Chama.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is an excellent way to access the CDT at Cumbres Pass, described below.  CDT Thru-hikers and CDTC Members can receive a $25 ticket to ride from Chama to the Cumbres Pass station, or vice-versa.  This is a unique experience and highly encouraged! Just show your member card when buying your ticket at either station. 

Continental Divide Trail Access

From Cumbres Pass
The Continental Divide Trail crosses NM/CO-17 about 12 miles north of Chama at Cumbres Pass in the San Juan Mountains.  After crossing the railroad at Cumbres Pass, take the immediate left for the Cumbres Train Station. Continue left behind the station and park at the end of the road.  A short access spur trail leads from here to the CDT.  Starting around 10,000’, you’ll climb gradually through open, grassy meadows and cool subalpine forest with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. After about 4.5 miles, you’ll reach a long, prominent ridge at 11,000’.  The trail follows this ridge north through spectacular mountain scenery, but this is a good place to enjoy a view of the Rio Chama Valley below and turn around if you are day hiking.  Note that at this high elevation, snow often clings to the trail until mid-June.

From the Rio Chama
Explore the Chama River Wilderness on the Continental Divide Trail on this hike through Ojitos Canyon, one of our featured New Mexico CDT sections.

Events & Attractions

Events

Chile Ski Classic
Martin Luther King Weekend in January 2017. A celebration of winter sports featuring cross-country ski and snowshoe races, as well as classes, clinics, children’s events, Backcountry Film Festival, and an ice bicycle race.

Opening Day of the Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad
Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Kicks off the classic steam train’s season of traveling from Chama to Antonito, Colorado with fanfare.

Fourth of July
Features a fantastic fireworks display.

Chama Days
2nd Weekend of August. Includes a parade, dances, softball, basketball and volleyball tournament, and rodeo.

Chama Valley Studio Tour
Labor Day Weekend. Artists throughout the valley open their galleries to display their work to the public. Free.

Attractions

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
The historic steam train travels from Chama to Antonito, Colorado, on the country’s highest narrow-gauge railroad, built in 1880. A trip takes riders through a “living history museum” and provides a thrill as the train twists and turns through high mountain passes.

Ghost Ranch
Once a home of acclaimed artist Georgia O’Keefe, Ghost Ranch now operates as a retreat and education center, but independent visitors can also enjoy the beauty of its surroundings, hiking opportunities, archeology, paleontology, geology, history, and art.

Outdoor Activities
All sorts of outdoor pursuits are easily accessed from Chama in all four seasons.

Tierra Wools
This weaving workshop, located about 12 miles south of Chama in Los Ojos, New Mexico, celebrates the sheep ranching and weaving traditions that have existed here for generations. The operation uses local wool, local weavers, and even local plant-based dyes to produce its beautiful works, which you can peruse in the shop after you’ve observed their process.

Edward Sargent Wildlife Area
For a quick jaunt from town, this New Mexico Game & Fish-operated wildlife area can be used for all sorts of recreation, seasonal restrictions permitting. It’s a scenic area for hiking, biking, photography, horse-back riding, camping, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It is home to one of the state’s largest elk herds and offers prime wildlife viewing opportunities.

Photos courtesy of Roger Hogan

Explore Chama
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