Durango Colorado and the Train Ride

Today’s ride takes us south for one more northern New Mexico visit with tonight’s destination being Durango. We leave south on Hwy. 285 into Antonio home of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. A narrow gauge railroad that travels over the 10,222 Cumbres Pass into Chama. We wanted to take a ride, but there is little lodging at Chama and you ride the train one way and take a bus back. We have decided to take the Durango to Silverton tomorrow. We stop for a break to look at the old train locomotives and train cars. We leave and go left on Hwy. 17 west to Chama. 39 miles of climbing through the South San Juan Wilderness Area. This area is considered some of the most remote in Colorado. I believe this is so because of the lack of trails which stitch together the other wilderness areas. In Colorado, regardless of remoteness, you can always find people hiking. We see a couple of deer and my first prairie dog sighting. We marvel at the high alpine meadows. They are covered with yellow dandelion flowers and purple irises are prolific in any wet areas. Nice twisty turns and switchbacks come to an end in Chama where we stop for lunch. I ask the locals about a side trip through Jicarilla Apache Reservation and was advised not to go that route ( more angry Indians). Instead we take Hwy. 84 to Pagosa Springs. This is another pretty ride through green fields framed by tall mountains. Pagosa Springs is known for its deep mineral springs and lots of ” Spiritual People”. This community is 7 miles long and very narrow. It is hemmed in by the National Park lands. West of town into Durango is not much to write about. Durango is a bustling community and the focal point is the train. We have found a place to stay 3 miles from downtown( which is the closet place we can get).

Early next morning we go downtown for the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge train ride which is an all day event. The train was the first line to go north and south instead of east and west. It took only a year and a half to build the line which hugs the Animas River gorge. At times it is right next to the river while other times clinging to the canyon wall 300 feet above the river while giving us fabulous views down the gorge. This engineering marvel was built to haul gold and silver ore out of the small mining towns up in the mountains. Until recently, the mines were still in production and maybe again if gold and silver prices go back up. We pick up and drop off wilderness hikers and rafters who are going into the back of beyond. Our 130 year old passenger car has a historical narrator on the trips up and back. They make the ride much more interesting and give us explanations of the history and the scenery as we ride along. The train is driven by a steam locomotive and we stop twice each way to take on water. The classic fireman shovels 5 tons of coal into the engine by hand on each round trip. When we get to the end he is covered with coal dust. Silvereton is a still functioning little town mainly for tourism now. The old buildings have been preserved and it is fun to walk the streets and grab a lunch while the train is turned around and refueled for the trip back to Durango. On our way back to town we are greeted by lots of folks along the way at crossings, at campgrounds, and along the streets in town. Even the prairie dogs come out of their burrows to watch us go by. After reading about the plague which has been killing off the prairie dogs, it is good to see so many along our route. The next morning we set out to travel the Million Dollar Highway. So named for the gold and silver ore used to build the roadway. The highway also connects Durango and Silverton. Unlike the train, however, the highway goes over the mountains not along the river as the train does. The views are incredible as we climb higher and higher. We leave the red rocks which have been carved by glaciers to mount the gray granite mountain tops at 11,000 to 14,000 feet. Snow patches are on both sides of the road. We finally descend back into Silverton. It is tame now, but back in the day this was the Wild West with rough miners, prostitutes, and lawlessness. We depart, without any gold, to continue our ride along the Million Dollar Highway which is beautiful but we have been spoiled by the drama of the morning ride. Through the mountains we go to the little town of Ouray. You have to remind yourself that you are not in the Alps in Europe. We stop for lunch in this scenic little spot with the old buildings set low in a valley surrounded by tall peaks. The buildings all have flower pots and baskets in full bloom. Could be Switzerland. Heading north the area becomes more agriculture oriented with cattle and hay operations along the waterways. At Ridgeway we turn towards Telluride passing beautiful yellow flowered fields, and large ranches while the mountains that we drove through loom on the horizon. You just can’t beat this. Elk crossing signs are everywhere, but we have seen nary a one. In Placerville we enter a long box canyon where Telluride lies at the end. The only thing beyond the town is the spectacular Bridal Falls which gushes forth from the snow fields above. I have always wanted to visit this place and I am not disappointed. A farmer’s market is being held across the street from our hotel. Crafts, pottery, meats,cheeses, vegetables, and a booth hawking baked goods including strawberry rhubarb tarts ( organic of course) are for sale. I am sure James will want to try one. Our hotel is the Camel Garden Hotel located right next to the Gondola station and a small green square which is a gathering place for jugglers, dogs, yoga classes etc. We have a balcony over looking everything. The old miner’s houses with tiny yards are all painted gay colors and now occupied by young families on an outdoor vacation. All of them seem to have strollers and dogs. This is modern hippy ville. We walk the town and laugh at the signs forbidding sleeping in cars. Several new Pot shops are open on Main Street. Its the law now! I stop at a realtor office an enquire as to the cost to rent a condo in season. $700 a day is the going rate.