The Chili Line

The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's

The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's "Chili Line" crosses the bridge over the Santa Fe River, circa 1935, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Chili Line- History

  The Chili Line was the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad's narrow gauge route from Antonito, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a link in railroad founder William Jackson Palmer's dream to build a railroad from Denver to Mexico City. Unfortunately, Santa Fe became the final stop for his dream. The Chili Line operated along its 125-mile route from 1880 to 1941. It received its unique nickname from the chili peppers which farmers along the route would string on lines to dry. The Chili Line passed through Hispanic villages and Indian Pueblos impacting the daily lives of residents with trade goods brought in from industrial areas and shipping out the local agricultural products. Travelers today can still find traces of the Chili Lane in existence, such as railroad depots in Antonito, Embudo and Santa Fe. Water tanks can be seen in Tres Piedras and Embudo. 

Chili Line- Aldo Leopold

 An amazing number of characters from the past were associated with the Chili Line including conservationist Aldo Leopold. Aldo Leopold was the first superintendent of the newly created Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico in 1912. Leopold built his home in Tres Piedras along the Chili Line. The railroad had a significant impact upon his early life. It served as transportation for his trips to Santa Fe to court his eventual wife Estella Luna Otero Bergere. And it saved his life in 1913 when he became seriously ill on a horseback trip to the Chama area in northwest New Mexico. Barely making it back alive to Tres Piedras, Leopold hopped on the Chili Line to Santa Fe, where a doctor diagnosed him with Bright's disease, a serious kidney ailment that would soon have taken his life had it not been discovered and treated. Surviving his illness, Leopold went on to become one of America's foremost conservationists, later publishing his most famous book Sand County Almanac.

Aldo and Estella Leopold walking the Chili Line rails in Santa Fe.

Aldo and Estella Leopold walking the Chili Line rails in Santa Fe.

For more information on the Leopolds visit

Chili LIne- Edith Warner

  Another amazing Chili Line character was Edith Warner who became freight agent at the lonely stop of Otowi on the Chili Line in 1928. She also operated a store and gasoline pump there. She eventually built a tea room which served refreshments to travelers heading west to the Indian ruins at Bandelier. Then during the years when Los Alamos was built on the mesa above Otowi she served meals and her famous chocolate cake to the scientists who were attempting to build the nation's first atomic bomb at Los Alamos. 

Edith Warner poses with a truck at her gasoline pump and general store at Otowi in 1930.

Edith Warner poses with a truck at her gasoline pump and general store at Otowi in 1930. 

For more clues on finding remnants of the Chili Line today, check out Mike Butler's book:

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