Georgetown Loop RR and Silver Mine

Georgetown, CO – August, 2017 Jim is as much a fan of trains and mining as I am of fire towers and moose. So while exploring the mining communities west of Denver I read about a train ride to a mine tour. Well that was a no brainer!

The community of Georgetown, Colorado was once known as the “Silver Queen of the Rockies.” They had a narrow gauge railway that carried silver ore from the mines 2 miles uphill in Silver Plume. The railway and mines were shut down for 50 years but were reopened in the 1970’s by the Colorado Historical Society.

We stopped in historic downtown Georgetown for a quick bite before our scheduled departure. We couldn’t resist a café called the Happy Cooker and we were not disappointed. Jim’s French dip and my meatloaf sandwich were both exceptional.

We walked around the area admiring the many neat old buildings. Their firehouse is very distinctive and serves as the town’s historical symbol.

We then headed up the hill to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. We passed under a train trestle and Jim exclaimed “I hope we get to ride over that”. I was not as excited about the prospect. It soon became apparent that we would be traveling over it as a train came around the bend before heading to the station.

We picked up our prepaid tickets in the gift shop and headed for the platform to catch the train. We didn’t have to wait long until we were boarded and on our way.

The train ride is about 4 miles each way. Even though the stations are only 2 miles apart the tracks zigzag back and forth to keep the grade at an acceptable level, 6% or below. The path crosses the beautiful Clear Creek again and again.

In less than 30 minutes we pulled in to Silver Plume. The engine pulled away to take on water and then reattached itself to the other end of the train for the downhill return.

This took about 20 minutes and we had an opportunity to get off and visit their gift shop if we wanted. They also took on new passengers at this station as you can begin your tour at either Georgetown or Silver Plume. Finally we were back on the rails.

In about 10 minutes they stopped at a platform and those of us who had purchased a mine tour departed. Some people chose to just ride the train. The mine tour is optional or not an option for anyone with children under 5 or those who can’t handle the walk to and through the mines.

We had a brief safety talk and then the passengers broke in to separate groups for the 3 different tour options. We had chosen a tour that would take us 900 feet in to the Lebanon Mine. Everyone donned a hard hat and we headed underground.

The first part of the mine looked like this. The timbers were spaced close together until they got through the part of the hill with the smaller stones.

Once they reached bedrock they only shored up the ceiling where it was needed. The height of the cavern became much shorter and anyone over 5 ½ feet had to spend much of the walk hunched over.

Thankfully they had the hard hats so it wasn’t painful when one found a particularly short spot. I even bumped my hat on a couple low spots. When the tour stopped for a talk everyone was usually able to find a spot where they could stand upright and straighten their backs.

The tour was fascinating and incredibly informative! Much of the mine equipment had simply been abandoned when the mine closed. This scene is practically as they found it when they reopened the mine.

You see the ladder to the above tunnel but can’t see that there is hole in the floor to the lower tunnels. This winch was used to haul the ore from both to the ore carts. We were walking on the carts’ tracks now filled in with gravel.

In another side tunnel the hole down was closer and you can clearly see the ladder descending into the depths of the mine, now flooded.

Our tour was on the 3rd level of a 6 level mine. They are continually trying to open new tunnels to tours. They work over the winter when they are not giving tours. They expect this tour to be about 100 feet longer next season.

The mine didn’t close because they ran out of silver but because the price of silver dropped below an amount that made it profitable to mine. There was silver ore all over the place. The miners called this a dragon tongue.

It apparently means that there is another rich silver vein above it. Several of these have appeared since they reopened this mine. It’s not like you can just pick up the silver though. It is embedded in granite and has to processed to extract the silver.

They don’t anticipate the price of silver ever reaching a level that would make it lucrative to mine these veins in today’s economy. There are working silver mines in the area though. The tour operator said the Phoenix mine down the road does OK and supplements their mining profits with tours during summer.

After about an hour long tour filled with tons of information we were totally satisfied with our experience. We didn’t at all mind leaving the 40 degree mine and Jim especially appreciated being able to stand upright again. We were very happy with our choice of tours as the Extended Lebanon Mine Tour had only 10 participants. Each of the other available tours had at least double that amount which would have made it pretty crowded in the narrow tunnels.

We walked up the hill to the platform and stopped to visit their very gentle pet donkeys on the way.

Our train showed up very shortly and we boarded it for the brief 15 minute ride back to Georgetown. Of course, we had to cross the trestle for the second time but it wasn’t really bad as there were so many sights and sounds to distract you.

I highly recommend this tour if you are in the area and interested in trains and/or mines. I thought the prices were very reasonable. A train ride was about $26 and the mine tours were $11 to 14 more. You could upgrade any ticket to first class which let you ride in a covered car with windows for another $10.

The train ride was rather short but you got to experience all the facets of a train excursion without a serious commitment of time. When we took the Durango & Silverton train a couple years ago it took all day and we were a bit uncomfortable by the end of the trip. This train ride along with the mine tour took a little under 3 hours but we were plenty tuckered out by the end of the day.

We stayed at Dakota Ridge RV Park 35 miles away in Golden, Colorado. We paid $49 per night for a full hookup, back-in site with our Good Sam discount. It was an extremely nice park with a pool, which we never managed to get to, and a hot tub, which we finally visited our last evening there.

Train Museum

Menifee, CA January, 2016 We chose a Thousand Trails campground an hour outside LA to stay at before and after our cruise to Mexico and to leave our fifth wheel during our 7 day absence. We made a 14 day reservation at Wilderness Lakes RV Resort. They let us stay in an electric only site the whole time without having to move to storage and it only cost us $3 per day.

We really liked this campground. There are canals running through it and they attract a lot of really interesting birds. Not so many that you have to watch where you step but enough that it makes every outing rather interesting wondering what strange fowl you might run across. It was also a bit out of town so you could strike out in any direction and have a pleasant walk along a country road.

The park had good amenities; putt putt, basketball and pickleball courts, game rooms. It was too cold for us to visit their pool or hot tub but stronger souls were using them. We did make use of their very nice pool hall. They also have a dynamite fitness room which we took advantage of a few times (trying to get ahead of all those calories we knew were waiting for us on the cruise).

We managed to fritter away 5 whole days here before we left with little to show for it. We did a lot of walking, we packed, and we shopped a little. The most interesting thing we did was visit the Orange Empire Railway Museum 11 miles north of our campground in Perris.

Jim is a railroad nut so when I read about this museum that was nearby and, better yet, FREE, it was a must see. It turned out to be a very good decision.

The museum consists of many barns full of machinery on 90 acres. It was rather deserted when we arrived on a Friday morning. We stepped into the gift shop and were informed that a docent had just started a tour and if we walked out to the back barns we might catch up with it. We did and we were led by a very informative tour guide for the next hour. We shared the tour with two families, each with small children, which made the morning even more entertaining.

We visited 5 of the barns. They have an amazing collection of both trains and streetcars. Many are fabulously original and others have been painstakingly restored.

Here is an electric locomotive that hauled freight in southern California until electrified freight service was converted to diesel in 1965.

This 1881 steam locomotive was part of a collection owned by Ward Kimball, a Disney animator. He named it Emma Nevada after a famous opera star from the late 1800s.

This is the inside of a mail car. All the work of a post office took place right inside the car as it made its rounds.

Here is a streetcar I believe operated in Santa Monica.

And my favorite, one of the last streetcar designs before most cities were converted to other types of public transit.

The docent had to unlock each barn for us so a self-guided tour seemed to be out of the question. I got the impression that on the weekends the barns are unlocked and you can wander at your own pace. They also offer train and trolley rides on the weekends and pull out a different one of several trains each time. They charge $12 per adult to ride these trains all day. I understand they generally operate 2 streetcars on a half mile loop and one train on a standard gauge 1.5 mile loop.

It made for a very interesting day and we would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

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.