Raton Pass

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Ratón Pass
Westbound Southwest Chief on Raton Pass.jpg
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 36°59′28″N 104°29′12″W / 36.9911344°N 104.4866544°W / 36.9911344; -104.4866544Coordinates: 36°59′28″N 104°29′12″W / 36.9911344°N 104.4866544°W / 36.9911344; -104.4866544[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
Ratón Pass

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.


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 late 19th century, it was used by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway as the railroad's primary route through the mountains. Along with the Royal Gorge in Colorado the pass was one of the focal points for the 1878-1879 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 (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. 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%. Passenger traffic, as Amtrak's Southwest Chief, continues to use Raton Pass (one train daily in each direction) but there is currently no freight traffic.

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.

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]

The pass is also 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.

Lyrics from http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/black-clint/the-goodnight-loving-3802.html


  1. ^ "Ratón Pass". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  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.

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