Alamogordo to Cloudcroft

The Cloud-Climbing Railroad

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A view of the Mexican Canyon trestle from nearby US Route 82, just outside of Croudcroft, NM. Photo by Dave Matthews, November 2008.

As the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad sought passage northward through Alamogordo in the 1890s, a steady of supply of timber was necessary to continue construction on its railroad line. The owners, upon seeing the Sacramento Mountains with its lush forests to their east (the Lincoln National Forest today), decided to build a branch line into the trees/mountains to tap the natural resources there.

The EP&NE survey team found at the summit not only excellent trees for timber, but a potential attraction for tourists with the area's majestic views and abundant natural wildlife. Thus, the town of Cloudcroft ("clearing in the clouds") was born, and the EP&NE quickly built a 26-mile branch line towards the summit. The railroad was called the Alamagordo-Sacramento Mountain Railway, a subsidiary of the EP≠ its nickname, "The Cloud-Climbing Railroad", became well-known as the railroad offered spectacular vistas along the way, not to mention its destination "in the clouds". In addition, at the time of its completion, it was the highest standard-gauge track in the world. The line offered both freight and passenger excursion service, often transporting movie stars and other famous guests 6,000 feet upwards into the grand mountains. 58 wooden bridges were constructed, including one "S" bridge (formed by two reverse curves) at a length of 338 feet.

With the arrival of US Route 82 to Cloudcroft around 1945, traffic on the railroad line diminished. Southern Pacific discontinued passenger service in 1938, and freight service in 1947; abandonment of the line came soon after in 1948. The town of Cloudcroft itself continues to thrive today as an attractive tourist destination.

The only evidence of the railroad line today is the remains of the trestle over Mexican Canyon, as seen in these pictures.

Looking for any information on John Barnes Ritter who worked on Cloud Climbing Railroad around 1955. Please email any infomation to me: mistyiley@yahoo.com

Misty Iley
ALBQ, NM
6/7/2011

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Actually there is plenty of evidence of the railroad. I ride my ATV on the old rail beds all the time.

John
Cloudcroft, NM
9/20/2011

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My Great Grandfather was in chrage of the crew who built this bridge, according to my grandfather who was only between 5 and 7yrs old. The story is told that my GGrnadpa was stuck on the design of the bridge, and woke up to find that my GGrandma had left a picture or instructions (not exactly sure)for him and it was based on an embordiery pattern. Apparently my grandpa remembers them living in Train box cars and his mother cooking for the whole crew and his family of 5 children, which my grandpa was one of. He remembers because it took so long to build.

Laura Burgess
Springfield, OH
11/12/2011

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A friend of mine that has land near there said he found an old wrecked train in a creek somewhere around there- any truth to this? Is it still there? Been removed? or never was?

Brad Lewis
Carrollton, TX
3/12/2013

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Quite a bit of the old railbed from alamogordo to cloudcroft is still around. Fron La Luz to High Rolls almost all of the bed is still evident. One trestle still stands on private land. We are not sure of another trestle. One trestle was rebuilt in Salado Canyon and can be walked across on the Salado Canyon trail. Three trails, Salado Canyon, Bridal Vale, and Grand View Trail are connected and are on the old rail bed. From High Rolls to the switchback most of the road bed either is covered by highway or hidden from view from the road. You can hike the Switchback Trail. Baily Canyon still has some of the old rail bed. The best hiking along rail beds can be found at the Rail Trail park just at the edge of Cloudcroft. You can see a recreation of the old depot as well as walk most of the rail bed from Cloudcroft to the Mexican Canyon trestle which has an overlook. The Lincoln National Forrest Service has mapped the route with assistance from a great volunteer and use of building maps. I am working on a project to collect photos of the railroad and combine them with photos from a hike I plan to take. Hopefully we will have a video showing the then and now. Also, the Mexican Canyon Trestle has been restored and has an overlook with information for visitors.

KeviN J
El Paso, TX
8/8/2013

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When you hike out from Rail Trail Park to the Mexican Canyon Tressle, you pass by what is left of the S Bridge.

The article mentions this spur was the highest standard gauge RR at the time, but doesn't mention the engineers' secret to accomplished that. It's the switch back! Backing the train up for a ways to gain altitude and then going forward again eliminates curves.

Ed Buckner
Lenexa, KS
12/12/2013

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