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Pastoral Belen remained a New Mexico farming village after the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway pushed track down the Rio Grande River valley toward Texas and Mexico in 1880. Even Bronco Bill and Kid Johnson killing the sheriff and a deputy in a gunbattle after robbing a train south of town proved only a temporary sensation. Then the Belen Cutoff, the Santa Fe’s alternative to mountainous Raton Pass, opened in 1908, running 259 miles from Texas to El Paso Junction in Belen, plus 17 miles from Belen Junction to the California main line west of Albuquerque.
Between the junctions, the yard, station, and Harvey House fostered a lively cross-country rail center as the town touted itself as the Hub City. Premier passenger trains, however, remained on the scenic Raton route, although the San Francisco Chief and the southern section of the Grand Canyon Limited once called at Belen.
BNSF Belen Operations, 160.860; Clovis Sub, 161.190; Gallup Sub, 160.650; El Paso Sub, 160.560; Rail Runner, 160.410.
FOR YOUR FAMILY
Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe helped make New Mexico the international, four-season tourist destination it is today. The Belen Harvey House Museum hosts events, exhibits, and occasional tours of the M-190, an articulated 1938 Santa Fe motorcar restored and reposing two blocks away in Doodlebug Park.
Narrow gauge steam trains operate in the region on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad and Durango & Silverton. Historic, cultural, and recreational sites and events also pepper the state.
WILLIAM P. DIVEN is an independent journalist and blogger from Placitas, N.M.