New Mexico : Safety by City
- Elephant Butte
- Las Cruces
- Los Alamos
- Red River
- Rio Rancho
- Santa Fe
- Silver City
- Truth or Consequences
You really have to go looking for Chama, New Mexico, to find it, but something about it might look awfully familiar.
That’s because this small town of 1,000 people is connected to some of the greatest movies of all time, like Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Wyatt Earp, to name a few.
Chama got its start as a railroad town in the late 1800s when the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad arrived to transport logs from the surrounding forest.
The railroad brought an influx of workers and established Chama as a keylogging and timber center.
Remnants of this history remain today in the form of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which offers scenic train rides on an authentic steam railroad that made it to the list of National Historic Landmarks.
Beyond its railroad roots, Chama is also known for its wilderness areas.
The famous El Vado and Heron Lakes are located just a few miles from town and provide excellent trout fishing.
The Rio Chama River flows right through town and is popular for whitewater rafting and kayaking, and the river eventually makes its way to the famed Rio Grande.
You also have the Carson National Forest surrounding Chama, offering hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
This is a town where you can hear several languages spoken throughout the town.
The Old West charm and Indigenous traditions still thrive.
Charma is a small town with a big personality.
It’s one of the best-kept secret resort towns in the country, well off the beaten path.
Warnings & Dangers in Chama
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in Chama by crime rates and the number of safe things to do. Resort communities are usually on the safer side, since the economy relies on happy tourists.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
The RTD Blue Bus serves Chama with a route that runs between the town and Espanola. Taxis and rideshares should be easy to find, but having a rental car is your best option for exploring the outdoors.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
The risk is low, but you can keep it that way by only carrying the bare necessities with you and not leaving things in plain sight inside your car.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
I laughed out loud when I saw a "Hurricane Safety" section on the Rio Arriba County Emergency Management website. Suffice it to say; you won't have hurricanes here. You do need to treat a visit here with a medium risk for wildfires, severe storms, winter storms (96 inches of snow on average!) and flash flooding.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
This is another low risk. It's hard to find any new stories over the past few years of any crime in Chama. Since 2014, there has only been one year with 10 robberies across the county. Otherwise, fewer than four are reported each year.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
With an area this remote and with a small population, there's a low risk of terrorism here. While mass shootings can happen in any city, there's nothing about Chaman that should make you think twice about this being a dangerous place.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
I'm amazed there aren't more tourist scams reported here, but there's hardly any mention of a scam or fraud in this town for the past few years. You should always be aware of deals that seem too good to be true, but this is definitely a low-risk town for scams.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
This is another low risk, especially for women travelers who are staying with tour groups, like the train ride. Smart outdoor and wilderness safety steps are required for hikers and rafters, but every risk comes with plenty of safety advice.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
Chama Water System provides tap water here but hasn't posted a Water Quality Report since 2021. The company did issue a boil advisory when turbidity levels exceeded the allowed amounts in May 2023. The problem was quickly addressed. Look for local alerts like the boil advisory order on the village's website. There's a low risk, but you should always stay informed in case that changes.
Safest Places to Visit in Chama
The Chama Valley Chamber of Commerce has a tourism site with information, including local events and a short video tour of the town.
A tourist guide is available on the website, along with relocation information if you happen to fall in love with this small mountain town.
Just like in the early days, people are still drawn to Chama for the railroad.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad has day trips and special rides between Chama and Antonito, Colorado, with some of the best wildlife and scenery you’ll find in America.
This train has been featured in many films, including, most recently, the 2018 film Hostiles with Christian Bale.
Another way to experience Chama’s railway heritage is to stop by the Chama Rail Yard.
Here you can see exhibits, artifacts, and photographs illustrating the importance of the railroad to this mountain community.
The Tanglefoot Tavern is also located in the yard, providing a great spot to grab a bite to eat or refreshment.
You can also choose to drive over Cubres Pass instead of taking the trail.
There’s a trail available through the woods and mountains to walk the Continental Divide.
Along the way, you’ll see a waterfall, wildfire, and an 11,000-foot ridge looking over the mountains.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy fishing for trout in the nearby Chama River and El Vado and Heron Lakes.
The river winds right through the heart of town and is a popular destination for fly fishing.
Heron Lake State Park is also a great place for four seasons of fun, with winter offering ice fishing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, while summer opens the door to swimming, a “quiet lake” without loud boats, and plenty of trails to explore.
Surrounded by the Carson National Forest, the area offers outstanding hiking and mountain biking trails to explore as well.
A stroll down Chama’s Main Street introduces you to galleries, shops, and restaurants housed in historic buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Spanish architecture and murals reflect the town’s New Mexico setting.
One unique shop here is Tierra Wools, where blankets and yarn are made from “hoof to loom,” and you can see what classes are available during your visit to learn the craft.
Plenty of pre-made blankets and coats are available to purchase as well.
Places to Avoid in Chama
Chama is a small town with mixed cultures, so you don’t need to worry about bad parts of town or dangerous neighborhoods.
There are some reservations on both sides of Chama, which is sovereign land.
Most tribes allow public access of some kind, like wilderness trails or visitor centers, but you should check with the Chama visitors center before you go onto the native land.
There will be specific days or cultural holidays where you won’t be allowed.
While the roads to and from Chama are paved, you are at the mercy of the weather in winter.
The highways stay open as long as they are safe but will close down in heavy snow events or if a wildfire is burning nearby.
Check road conditions on the NM Roads website before you head out on the highway.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Chama
- Chama doesn’t have its own police force. The Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement. You can follow them on Facebook or email them at RASOFacebook@RIO-ARRIBA.ORG for more specific questions.
- You can create a Nixle account to get emergency notifications from the sheriff’s office or emergency management. This is a great way to know of urgent situations happening, like severe weather or a shelter-in-place order.
- NM Fire Info is the name of the website where you can track wildfires burning in the state. Not all wildfires are bad. Some are prescribed burns to help limit the danger of an out-of-control fire. Fire season runs throughout the year but picks up in the summer and fall.
- With a destination so remote, you need an emergency kit in your car. Keep a gallon of water for each person, a spare tire that is fully inflated, a red garment to use as a warning flag, flares, and a first aid kit.
- An average of eight feet of snow falls here each year, and the accumulation will be much higher in the surrounding mountains. You should not head out on a trail if you aren’t used to deep snow treks. Always carry an avalanche beacon with you as well.
- You won’t have mobile phone service in many places outside of Chama, so bring a weather radio with you and let someone know where you are going, what your final destination is, and when you plan to be back.
- There are bears in this region, so you’ll need bear-proof food containers and bear spray, even if you’re just stopping at a side trail of a rest stop. Don’t leave so much as a candy wrapper on the ground, or else you might attract a bear. If you come face to face with one, make noise and back away slowly. Never run away from a bear or turn your back.
- Anglers need a fishing license from the New Mexico Department of Fish & Game. Even if you are going on a fly fishing tour with an expert guide, you still need that license. Kids between 12 and 17 can get a junior license.
- Check the chamber’s website for events because some of the big events, like Chama Days, will sell out hotel rooms quickly.
- Some people might experience altitude sickness as Chama is nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. You should give yourself a day or two to adapt before doing any strenuous activity. Stay hydrated and stop for frequent breaks if you get short of breath. I know my breathing gets labored after 7,000 feet, but I adapt within 12 hours. Everyone is different, so pace yourself.
So... How Safe Is Chama Really?
Chama is a small, sleepy town that doesn’t have a lot of crime.
However, a murder shocked the community when a stranger brutally and repeatedly stabbed a man sitting in his car at a Chama gas station.
There was no motive or interaction before the incident.
Those crimes are rare in Chama, but it shows that no town is safe enough to prevent violent crime.
Rio Arriba County is also one of many American rural communities struggling with illegal drugs containing lethal doses of fentanyl.
In one Chama case, a convenience store worker overdosed after walking into a bathroom where someone had been smoking drugs.
She was just doing her job but needed emergency help.
Chama’s biggest safety risks come with the wilderness and weather.
From annoyances like a plague of grasshoppers that can’t be subdued without damaging other insects like bees and butterflies to crippling snow storms that could leave you stranded for a few days.
Chama is really a safe place, but it’s also small and remote.
The railroad is the biggest attraction, and if you don’t want to do that or explore the mountains, you’ll likely get bored quickly.
This remote nature is also bringing new life to the town as people venture more into nature post-pandemic.
How Does Chama Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need a visa or visa waiver with your valid passport to get through Customs and Border Patrol at the airport or border crossing. You can travel between Colorado and New Mexico without going through a checkpoint.
- Currency - Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here, and don't wait to exchange currency until you get to Chama. In fact, your home bank will offer the lowest exchange fees.
- Weather - From October through May, low temperatures will be below freezing. You'll need layers of insulated clothing and winter boots. Summers don't get much warmer than the low 80s (F), so you still want warm clothing for cool nights. In fact, the "warmest" low temperature of the year is 45°(F). Brrr.
- Airports - You'll have a long road trip to get to a commercial airport. Sante Fe Regional Airport is 116 miles away, Albuquerque's Sunport is 173 miles south, and the Colorado Springs airport is 271 miles northwest. Durango, Colorado, has a regional airport with flights to Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas, and that's just 105 miles from Chama.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is just necessary when you're going to such a remote region. You want protection against roadside emergency help, accidents requiring medical care, and weather-related delays.
Chama Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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