La Manga Pass is in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The pass, along with Cumbres Pass to the southwest, is traversed by State Highway 17. It is the only highway pass west out of the San Luis Valley between Wolf Creek Pass to the north and New Mexico’s border to the south. (Partner Pass: Cumbres Pass)
Begin in Chama, NM
Ride north on SH 17 and enter into Colorful Colorado--mile 8
Pedal to Cumbres Pass Summit--mile 16
Continue on SH 17 to La Manga Pass--mile 19.5
Ride on and finish in Antonito, CO--48 miles
The southbound climb from Antonito takes a pleasant journey along the river on the valley floor. Beware of the six miles of a gut-bust climbing straight to the top of La Manga once you leave the river floor.
Antonito, 28.5 miles to the east
Chama, New Mexico, 19.4 miles to the southwest
La Manga means “the sleeve” in Spanish and the pass is like a sleeve through the mountain.
The history of La Manga/Cumbres Passes starts like many other Colorado passes – undisputed Ute territory. Then, the Hayden Survey put the territory on the map, and photographer Henry Jackson popularized pictures of the area. Wagons crossed the pass in 1876, and it developed into a major toll road by 1879. Then the railroad came through. The Denver Rio Grande (DRG) railroad traveled south towards Mexico and stopped at the mouth of the Rio Grande River, providing ore traffic from Leadville and Gunnison. Cumbres/La Manga passes were crossed in 1881 and rails reached Durango that same year.
In 1920, plans for a tunnel under the pass were seriously considered. Instead, a road was built over the top, and by 1923 it was in improved gravel condition. At this point in time, the original rails were abandoned. The Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railway was constructed and began operation in 1970. The Railway has been in operation considerably longer than the original it was modeled after.