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Raton Pass

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Title: Raton Pass  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Raton, New Mexico, Santa Fe Trail, Southern Transcon, Scott Special, Battle of Glorieta Pass
Collection: Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Interstate 25, Landforms of Colfax County, New Mexico, Landforms of Las Animas County, Colorado, Listings Related to Transportation on the National Register of Historic Places, Mountain Passes of Colorado, Mountain Passes of New Mexico, National Historic Landmarks in Colorado, National Historic Landmarks in New Mexico, National Register of Historic Places in Colorado, National Register of Historic Places in New Mexico, Natural Features on the National Register of Historic Places, Rail Mountain Passes of the United States, Raton, New Mexico, Santa Fe Trail, Transportation in Colfax County, New Mexico, Transportation in Las Animas County, Colorado
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Raton Pass

Ratón Pass
Amtrak's Southwest Chief westbound out of the Raton Tunnel near the summit of Raton Pass
Elevation 7,834 ft (2,388 m)
Traversed by I‑25 / US 85 / US 87,
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad
Location Colfax County, New Mexico and Las Animas County, Colorado, US
Coordinates [1]
Topo map


Historic landmark
Looking into Colorado from Raton Pass
Nearest city Trinidad, CO, Raton, NM
Built 1821
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 66000474
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[2]
Designated NHL December 19, 1960[3]
Ratón Pass is located in Colorado
Amtrak's Southwest Chief entering the north end of the tunnel
Sign marking the elevation of the Raton Pass tunnel

Ratón Pass (7834 feet or 2388 meters elevation) is a mountain pass on the Santa Fe Trail along the Colorado-New Mexico border in the United States. Raton Pass is a federally designated National Historic Landmark. Ratón is Spanish for "mouse."

The pass is located on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Trinidad, Colorado and Raton, New Mexico, approximately 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Santa Fe. The pass crosses the line of volcanic mesas that extends east from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the state line, and furnishes the most direct land route between the valley of the Arkansas River to the north and the upper valley of the Canadian River, leading to Santa Fe, to the south.


  • History 1
    • Railroad Route 1.1
  • In Popular Culture 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


In 1821, Captain William Becknell laid the path of the Santa Fe Trail through the pass. In 1846 during the Mexican–American War, Stephen W. Kearny and his troops passed through the pass en route to New Mexico. During the Civil War, it was the primary path into New Mexico since it avoided Confederate raiders.[3] It was later developed into a toll road by Richens Lacey Wootton.

In the 20th century the Pass became the route of Interstate 25 between Denver and Albuquerque.The pass is at an elevation over 7,500 feet above sea level, and therefore is subject to difficult driving during heavy winter snowfalls

Railroad Route

In the late 19th century, it was used by the Railroad Wars between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and the smaller Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The route over the pass required gradients of up to 3.5%, with a tunnel at the highest point of the Santa Fe Railway (The tunnel is entirely within New Mexico, with its northern portal only a few feet south of the Colorado border).[4]

BNSF, which absorbed the Santa Fe railroad in 1996, and Amtrak continue to use this route. However, following completion of the Belen Cutoff in 1908, the majority of freight traffic was diverted over the Cutoff, which has gradients of no more than 1.25%. Amtrak's Southwest Chief passenger service between Chicago and Los Angeles, continues to use Raton Pass (one train daily in each direction). In 2012, there was not enough freight traffic for BNSF to maintain the line up to the standards required by Amtrak for continued intercity service. This problem has placed the future of rail transportation over Raton Pass in jeopardy.[5]

In Popular Culture

The pass was part of a Townes Van Zandt song "Snowin' on Raton". During a live performance, Townes commented how he liked playing a show in Colorado because he didn't have to explain what Raton was. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.[3]

Raton Pass is mentioned in C.W. McCall's (Bill Fries) song "Four Wheel Cowboy", from his album Wilderness. "Four Wheel Cowboy" also appears on his compilation release titled; The Best of C.W. McCall.

Clint Black makes reference to the Raton Pass in the song "The Goodnight-Loving" from the album "Put Yourself in My Shoes."

Ridin' against the wind in east New Mexico.
His skin is dry and worn as the Texas plains.
He's headed where the air is thin and the cold blue northers blow.
Up through the Raton Pass but he'll have to beat the early snow[6]


  1. ^ "Ratón Pass".  
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  3. ^ a b c "Raton Pass". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  4. ^ See Harper, Jared V. "Santa Fe's Raton Pass." (1983, Kachina Press). ISBN 0930724097.
  5. ^ Preserve & Expand Amtrak Interstate Rail ServiceColorado State Legislature, p2 Section 1(b)(c)
  6. ^ Black, Clint. "'"The Goodnight Lovin. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 

External links

  • Raton Tunnel
  • , a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan“Glorieta and Raton Passes: Gateways to the Southwest”
  • Raton Line: The Original Santa Fe Transcontinental, a railroad history of Raton Pass

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