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
Elevation7,834 ft (2,388 m)
Traversed by I-25 / US 85 / US 87,
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad
LocationColfax County, New Mexico and Las Animas County, Colorado, US
Coordinates36°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 mapRatón
Raton Pass
Raton Pass.JPG
Looking north from the top of Raton Pass
Nearest cityTrinidad, Colorado, Raton, New Mexico
Area1,520 acres (620 ha)
Built1866 (1866)
NRHP reference No.66000474[2]
CSRHP No.5LA.2182[3]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966
Designated NHLDecember 19, 1960[4]
Ratón Pass is located in Colorado
Ratón Pass
Ratón Pass is located in New Mexico
Ratón Pass

Ratón Pass is a 7,834 ft (2,388 m) elevation mountain pass on the ColoradoNew Mexico border in the western United States. It is located on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Trinidad, Colorado and Raton, New Mexico, approximately 180 miles (290 km) northeast of Santa Fe. Ratón is Spanish for "mouse". 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 toward Santa Fe, to the south. The pass now carries Interstate 25 and railroad tracks.

The pass is a historically significant landmark on the Santa Fe Trail, a major 19th-century settlement route between Kansas City, Missouri and Santa Fe. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 for this association.


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.[4] It was later developed into a toll road by Richens Lacey Wootton.

Railroad route[edit]

In the late 19th century, Raton Pass was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway's (AT&SF) primary route through the mountains. Along with Royal Gorge in Colorado, the pass was one of the focal points for the 1878–79 Railroad Wars between the AT&SF and the smaller Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The route over the pass has gradients of up to 3.5% and a tunnel at its highest point, 7,588 ft (2,313 m) above sea level. The tunnel is in New Mexico, but just barely so, with its northern portal lying only a few feet south of the Colorado border.[5]

The route is now owned by BNSF, which absorbed the AT&SF in 1996. While it is still used by Amtrak's ChicagoLos Angeles Southwest Chief, freight traffic shifted from Raton Pass to the Belen Cutoff (1908), whose gradients do not exceed 1.25%. As a result, with Raton Pass having little to no freight traffic, BNSF said in 2012 that they could not justify maintenance of the route to Amtrak's standards between La Junta, Colorado, and Lamy, New Mexico, placing the future of rail transportation over the pass in jeopardy.[6]

Highway route[edit]

In the 20th century, the pass was used as the route of U.S. Route 85 and, later, Interstate 25 between Denver and Albuquerque. At 7,834 ft (2,388 m) above sea level, the highway is subject to difficult driving conditions and occasional closures during heavy winter snowfalls.

In popular culture[edit]

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.

The 1951 western movie Raton Pass stars Academy Award actress Patricia Neal.

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,[7]

In the 1951 Randolph Scott film Santa Fe there is a part about how the Santa Fe railroad acquired Raton Pass for the use of the rail road.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ratón Pass". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ "State Register of Historic Properties, Las Animas County". Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Raton Pass". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2007-10-13.
  5. ^ Harper, Jared V. "Santa Fe's Raton Pass". (1983, Kachina Press). ISBN 0930724097.
  6. ^ Colorado State Legislature, Preserve & Expand Amtrak Interstate Rail Service p2 Section 1(b)(c)
  7. ^ Black, Clint. "The Goodnight Lovin'". CowboyLyrics.com. Retrieved 19 September 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Drury, George H. (1995). Santa Fe in the Mountains: Three Passes of the West: Raton, Cajon, and Tehachapi. The Golden Years of Railroading (1st ed.). Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 0-89024-229-1.
  • Harper, Jared V. (1983). Santa Fe's Raton Pass (1st ed.). Kachina Press. ISBN 0-930724-09-7.

External links[edit]