Friday, August 15, 2008

21-08 Durango/Silverton Railroad: Colorado

Durango/Silverton Railroad

Once again I’m getting up early to drive into Durango. It’s a hours drive along hwy 160, though it’s more like a beautiful winding country road. Dropping down in elevation from 7,200 ft down to about 5,200 ft.

I needed to drop off the truck again to have them check out the engine light which came on again. As luck would have it, the EGR valve is bad and they will need to replace it….. After ordering it of course. So I can look forward to another trip into town in a few days.

Arriving at the Durango Train station, right on the edge of downtown Durango, I get ready to board the Silver Vista car. It’s one of those with the glass dome roofs so I’ll have a wonderful view out the open air sides and through the glass top. This is first class accommodations folks. On the way back I’ll be taking the Alamosa Parlor Car.

Minutes later, we’re all settled in and with a toot toot of the whistle, black smoke billowing from the coal fired steam engine, we’re off with a slight jerk of the cars. Rolling on down the track and out of Durango. This is going to be a long trip, as it takes three and a half hours to go each way.

We’ll be following the Animus River all the way to Silverton. We pass all the new condo’s being built along the valley floor on both sides of the river, but mainly on the highway side, near the railroad tracks. Everyone waves at us as we go on by.

About 20 miles out, we leave the last of the roads and buildings behind. We’re in the San Juan Mountains, much of it a wilderness area. The train stops a couple of times along the way to drop off hikers, fishermen and campers. It’s so tempting to just jump off and go for a hike. The scenery is just to die for. The river, filled with boulders and river rocks. The water a crisp shade of blue and white from going over rapids. Mountains forming on either side of the tracks as we wind uphill from 4,200 ft to over 9,000 ft in elevation.

The train steward points out what looks like ski runs on many of the large mountain ranges. They’re actually where avalanches occur each year. The air is so refreshing, I and another passenger mention that we can smell the pine trees from our open cars on the train. Even with the occasional smell of the coal smoke billowing from the front of the train, the pine scent can still be enjoyed.

Hour after hour the train chugs uphill, following the Animus River. The trains gradual rocking back and forth on the narrow gauge tracks sets a rhythm that can’t be beat.

Finally we make the gradual bend that opens up into the Silverton valley and the town centered right in the middle of the valley, surrounded by those primitive mountain ranges that once filled the dreams of all the silver and gold miners hearts. Or was it the dozen or so bordello’s that the town was once famous for. After de-boarding the train, right in the heart of downtown Silverton, I headed for Natalia’s Family Restaurant, which was once one of those infamous bordello’s. After a hearty lunch, I walked around the town, going up and down the dozen or so grid of streets into the residential areas where historic signs point out things like “Russian Princess lived here” or past the one story miners home painted a bright red, fenced in with a white picket fence and wild flowers in the garden. About 350 hearty souls live here year round.
They even have two Rv campgrounds in town, so if you have a hankering to get out into the wilderness of Colorado, bring your camper and spend a while up here. You’ll find plenty of good places to eat and even a bit of shopping. Depending of what your needs are, they have the usual T-shirt shops, Indian jewelry and all your rugged outdoor gear as well.

After a couple hours of exploring Silverton, I re-boarded the train for our trip back to Durango. Although I could have taken a bus back to Durango I had opted for the longer ride back by train. It did give me the opportunity to enjoy the views one more time. This time not through the viewer of the camera. But I have to admit, it makes for a very long day. And when I got back to Durango, I needed to find a ride back to the Chevy dealer to pick up my vehicle that hadn’t been fixed, since they needed to order the EGR valve.

My day came to an end after driving back to my campsite in Pagosa. Yes, another one hour drive. Whew, back home… am I going to sleep well tonight.

But the next day I‘m all refreshed and ready to go, there’s always something to go explore, so I’m off into the woods. Right in the center of the newer section of Pagosa is a street called Piedra or Rte 600 heading north into the San Juan Mountains.

The paved road ends after a couple of miles and a well maintained dirt road lead up into the forest. I pass huge ranches encompassing acres of Alpine meadows. Dramatic views for miles. Lush green meadows bordered by barbed wire and wooden fences leaning in precarious positions that look like they are the original ones put in by the pioneers. Cattle munching on grass at the side of the road. The fence hasn’t kept them in at all. And a crisp blue sky dotted with white clouds as big as the land.

I wind down into a huge open valley with a river cutting through it, back up we go into a stand of large ponderosa pines. I discover a small fishing and hunting campground with full hook-up deep in the forest called Williams Creek Campground. It’s the only campground with services, including of all things cable tv! This would make a great home base for anyone wanting to experience the wilds of Colorado and yet be 12 miles from civilization.

But a bit further and I reach one of the forest campgrounds, $15 a night for a dry campsite. A hand pump for water is available and pit toilets. But the best part, it’s on a lake that has views of the San Juan Mountains reflected off of the lake… what a spectacular campsite. This would be a great site to spend a week or two.

Walking around this campsite, along the waters edge, spectacular views, fresh air, everything just feels right with the world. This is a place to re-fill your batteries and recharge your life.

Finally, it’s back on the dirt road heading back to Pagosa. Even though I’ve only been up here in the San Juan forest for the afternoon, I hate to leave. On my travels, this is one of those places that just captures my heart and won’t let go.

Back at camp, John and Mimi are having a few of us campers over for dinner a second night in a row. Tonight we’re having fresh trout on the grill. Last night we had fresh from the garden, baked eggplant and spaghetti. Mimi’s loves to cook and we campers love to eat, drink and tell tall tails around the campfire. What a great way to end the day.

Keep exploring the best that life has to offer.

Your good buddy,

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