Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

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Why We Love It

Old steam trains rock! Maps of their routes take us back in time to imagine how things might have been a hundred years ago. We love this map of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad for bringing history to life. It began as a strip map, intended to be rolled into a scroll or folded accordion-style so passengers could pan the route while riding the train. Now the Story Map Journal includes pictures, videos and interesting notes so anyone can experience the journey.

Why It Works

The narrow strip map provides focus on the railroad, allowing for larger scale and better detail in contrast to a rectangular, poster-sized print map. This map offers a similar benefit on the web using the Story Map Journal template with the original strip map over a background basemap. The map makes “stops” at various locations via journal entries. Its yellow-brown background hillshade evokes the dryness in this region of Colorado and New Mexico. Climb aboard at either end of the railroad and enjoy the ride between Antonito and Chama.

Important Steps

Using the railroad route as a guide, create strip map features that contain the route. Use the USGS Topo Map service as a basemap and be sure the extent includes all important features.

Create a smooth Swiss-style hillshade using a digital elevation model (DEM). I originally used the ArcGIS Hillshade toolbox, but new rich and diverse Terrain Tools are available to create this hillshade along with many other types of terrain modelling techniques. Use that same DEM to create smooth contours following techniques presented in the ArcUser article, Creating Cool Contours.

Collect transportation, boundary, and hydrography data. Digitize additional data that pertains to the railroad using aerial photos or scanned, geo-referenced maps.

Place annotation and representations to polish the look. Use variable depth masking on contour elevation annotation.

Clip the data frame to the shape of all of the strip map features, and then create a tiled map service showing the strip map at several scales.

Assemble content using the Map Journal template from Esri Story Maps.



A digital elevation model was used to create both the hillshade and contour lines. Transportation, boundary and hydrography data were used to provide most of the background data. The DEM and other data are all available from the USGS National Map. Data specific to the area around the railroad (such as water tank locations, mile markers, and buildings) required digitizing using a combination of scanned and geo-referenced paper maps, and aerials.


The DEM is processed with ArcGIS tools for creating hillshades and contour lines. Geo-referencing of various source maps allowed for on-screen digitizing. Tools allowing cartographic refinements, such as representations, tint bands and overpass parapets/masks, helped create the final details.


Data collection and processing took a few days. Digitizing additional information and refinements, such as annotation placement and representation editing, took a few more days. Compiling in the Map Journal template took a day.

Emphasize the subject


Emphasize the subject and mute the supporting elements to help the viewer focus on what you want them to see.

Different Font Symbols


The National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) is complex. Get started on symbolizing the data with available NHD Layer Symbology.

Map Author

Doug Cain

Doug Cain


GIS Programmer/Analyst at City of Fort Collins, Colorado. Geographer-turned-Software-Developer-turned-Geographer. Collect data, analyze data, map data. Repeat.

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