Durango & Silverton Train

Durango, Colorado – June 2015 The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a big part of Durango. When the train goes by people step out of their homes, hotels, and businesses to waive. It creates quite a stir. And this happens up to 8 times a day as the trains depart and return from their trip up the mountain to Silverton.

The 45 miles of track from Durango to Silverton were laid in the 1880’s to carry silver and gold ore out of the San Juan Mountains. The train has operated as a tourist attraction for over 30 years now. Riding it is an all day affair. If you catch the 8 am train you will not get back until after 5 pm. You can take a bus one way which is faster. You can also arrange to ride the train in conjunction with another adventure like horseback riding or zip lining. You can even arrange to get off the train in the middle of nowhere, spend a day, or several, backpacking and camping, and then hail a train to catch a ride back to civilization.

Jim is quite the train enthusiast so a ride on the train was high on our list of things to do here. We wanted to ride it when we visited many years ago but the price was well out of our budget then. We felt it was worth the splurge this time. A standard ticket is almost a $100. You get your choice of riding in an enclosed coach or an open gondola. Since it was supposed to rain that afternoon we wisely chose the closed car.

There are premium ticket options like a car with a narrator and cars with more comfortable seats and larger windows. They also offer special wine trains, brew trains, and blues trains, among others, throughout the year. I would consider paying higher rates for one of those in the future but none were scheduled during our visit and I understand they sell out months in advance anyway.

The ride up was fun. The tracks follow the Animas River most of the way and it was raging from snowmelt and recent rains.

At times the river was right beside us. Water even covered the tracks in places. Other times we were high above it.

The scenery was gorgeous! There were lots of beautiful waterfalls.

You are allowed to get up and move around the train, even encouraged to visit the concession car. Most of the cars have a restroom or two. The trip is 3 ½ hours up, then you get 2 hours to explore Silverton before you start home.

Silverton was a pleasant surprise. It had a plenty of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed an awesome lunch at Handlebars Saloon then walked down a couple of residential streets. We liked the unique architecture of many homes, the cute little churches, and the impressive public buildings.

We enjoyed the ride immensely and it was generally quite comfortable. If you get motion sickness I would suggest you take some medication before you go. You do get jostled around a bit at times. I felt a little altitude sickness but it didn’t last. It’s quite a bit colder in Silverton so be sure and bring plenty of layers. The day got a little long by the end but we were lucky to find interesting people to talk to on the trip down which helped pass the time. If you are in Durango and aren’t inclined or able to take the train, do at least check out their free train museum. It was quite extensive and included a lot of historical items beyond their train collection.

Getting High in Colorado

Durango, Colorado – June 2015 There is only one direct route from Delta to Durango Colorado but the road is a doosey. It has three very high mountain passes over 10,000 feet in elevation. This section of Highway 550 is part of the San Juan Skyway and the portion between Ouray and Silverton is known as the Million Dollar Highway. We actually considered the 8 hour alternative route since we did not have a good time the last time we drove this way because it rained cats and dogs and even hailed for a while. We weren’t sure we wanted to try it with the 5th wheel. But everything we read said to take it slow and it would be fine, so we chose a Monday morning with little chance of rain and off we went.

I’m very glad we did. It was an easy 3 hour drive. For me at least! Jim had to deal with the 7 percent grades up and down and back up again. And the 10 mph hairpin curves! The sign in this picture says it all.

I had a lovely ride with spectacular scenery. I love tunnels. The second one was interesting with a waterfall cascading over it.

Jim had to keep his eyes on the blacktop. There was no room for error. There are places where there is no guardrail, no shoulder, just a drop of thousands of feet next to the road. We will take this route again but try to avoid rain and we wouldn’t even consider it if snow or ice were a possibility. I understand they try to keep it open year round for those souls braver than us.

Durango was another town we had fond memories of from our family road trip 15 years ago. This might have had something to do with the fact that our family of 3 spent that 10 day vacation in a small tent and Durango was the one place that we splurged on a hotel room. I really didn’t remember much about Durango except wishing we could stay longer.

It is definitely worth a visit. The downtown has a ton of beautiful historic buildings and is still bustling. It has great shops (including five recreational marijuana dispensaries for anyone interested). We don’t have many reasons to shop these days but enjoyed walking down Main Street a few times and were entertained by the wares offered by the stores, the variety of people, and the pets. This town is very dog friendly and although we do not currently own a dog, we still love interacting with four legged furry friends.

Durango is very walkable with a 7 mile riverwalk called the Animas River Trail. It is paved and has many pedestrian bridges making it easy for locals and tourists to walk or bike to where they want to be. It goes through many parks and has lots of art and sculptures along it.

In addition to walking much of the riverwalk during our visit, we spent one morning hiking the first couple miles of the Colorado Trail which begins in Durango and travels 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains to Denver. We also drove 8 miles up Junction Creek Road to the Animas Overlook. There is a 2/3 mile paved path there with several picnic tables, grills, and beautiful views of the river valley below. It’s a great spot for a picnic. Jim cooked us an amazing lunch with hot sausages, potatoes, and green beans.

During our week in Durango we stayed the first couple days at the National Forest Service’s Junction Creek Campground. We were lucky to find an amazing site in the pines for 2 nights for $20 per night with the assistance of the most helpful campground host we have ever met. The campground does take reservations, which I would recommend, and has electric sites for $24. However, we found out we were going to have company for the weekend so we chose to splurge on a full hookup site at Alpen Rose RV Park ($45 per night) so we would have better access to town, cell service, and a pool. Of course, as soon as we moved it got rainy and cold so we never did get to use the pool. The park was really nice though and they had the most reliable wifi we have found of any park since we started full timing.