When the Santa Fe Southern Railway shut down in 2012, it was one year after novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones premiered on HBO. Eight years later, the famous Santa Fe resident found himself involved in reviving the historic rail line, turning it into a fantasy-filled adventure ride. The project has finally come to fruition, with the recent debut of Sky Railway in early December.
The last Santa Fe project Martin put his name (and money) behind was the uber-successful immersive art experience “House of Eternal Return” at Meow Wolf (he also owns the historic and eclectic Jean Cocteau Cinema near the Santa Fe Railyard). So, when he joined with other local entrepreneurs and artists (including author Douglas Preston, National Dance Institute of New Mexico cofounder Catherine Oppenheimer, artist Gary Oakley, and Bill Banowsky, who owns Violet Crown Cinema in the Santa Fe Railyard) to reimagine and revive the 141-year-old, 18-mile rail spur between Santa Fe and Lamy, it was clear this would be no ordinary train.
“We aren’t your average railway, far from it. For us, it isn’t about taking folks from point A to point B, it’s about transporting them to another time and reality,” says Martin. “Sky Railway adventures are one-of-a-kind immersive experiences, and we’re teeming with ideas for all sorts of exciting outings.”
True to his word, after repairing the tracks and bridges along the line and restoring the two passenger trains, the railway launched on Dec. 3 with several adventures on offer, including Pablo’s Magical Holiday, which has Santa on board; the Exodus Experience, which involves an interactive performance by an immersive theater ensemble; Sunset Serenade, with cocktails and live music; and the Stargazer, which includes an after-dark stop at the Galisteo Basin to view the gorgeous New Mexico night sky.
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Santa Fe muralist Joerael Numina fantastically painted Sky Railway’s two passenger trains, each paying homage to Martin’s stories. While train operators have traditionally regarded graffiti artists as nuisances, Sky Railway is embracing the art form, with one painted as a dragon and the other a wolf.
Inside, nostalgia takes over, with each car — which dates back to the 1920s — having been painstakingly refurbished to capture the beauty and elegance of train travel in the golden era. The trains will make their way between Santa Fe and the small town of Lamy, while riders enjoy entertainers, music, dinner parties, cocktails, and more along the ride.
The rail line, first part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, rolled into Santa Fe for the first time in 1880, 32 years before New Mexico became a state. In 1991, the new owner announced it would close the 18-mile spur between Lamy and Santa Fe, so Santa Fe Southern Railway formed to purchase the line and ran regular excursions until 2012 when it ran out of money.
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The Santa Fe Railyard, where Sky Railways’ Santa Fe depot can be found (and also where the commuter train to Albuquerque arrives and departs), has become one of the city’s burgeoning districts. It’s been the home of the Santa Fe Farmers Market since the 1990s and is also where art museum Site Santa Fe is located.
Recently, in addition to housing the ticket office and souvenir shop of Sky Railway, there have been several other new openings, including Wayward Sons Distillery, an outpost of Bosque Brewing Co. from Albuquerque, Built Design home store, Chomp Food Hall, the new location of local favorite Opuntia Café, and more.