On Friday, we arrived in Durango. We stopped at the Welcome Center for information about the train to Silverton, hiking in the area, and local restaurants. We made our way to the train station where we purchased tickets for Sunday and toured the Roundhouse Museum. Within its 12,000 square feet area is a collection of railroad memorabilia such as the cab of a locomotive that shows the view from the fireman and engineer’s seats, a baggage car used in the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” that is now a movie theatre, and an 800-square-foot model railroad. The eclectic collection also houses antique cars, military uniforms and paraphernalia, and stuffed animals. We then explored Main Street looking for a restaurant. We decided on Himalyan Kitchen where we tried yak for the first time.

Firefighter with Slurry Bomber

Firefighter with Slurry Bomber

On Saturday, we drove to Vallecito Lake, about 22 miles NE of Durango, to explore the “Tour of Carvings.” Fourteen carvings are located around the valley commemorating the firefighters and support personnel that fought the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. Between June 9th and July 28th more than 70,000 acres were burned involving some 4,000 firefighters and support personnel. The Vallecito Valley lost 28 of the 58 homes lost in the fire and one firefighter, Alan Wyatt, lost his life. Vallecito, a Hispanic word for “Little Valley,” is a valley where the Los Pinos (Pine River) joins Vallecito Creek. The Vallecito Dam was constructed between 1938-1941. Most carvings stand about 18 feet high. We learned that they are being systematically replaced because the originals were not properly preserved. We found the following carvings: “Black Bear & Cubs,” “Sheriff with Radio,” “Alan Wyatt Memorial,” “EMT & Eagle,” “Rebirth of Vallecito,” “Oregon Firefighter with Chain Saw,” “Firefighter with Slurry Bomber,” “Firefighter with Racoon,” “Doe & Fawn,” “Lynx & Eagle,” “Fireman with Hose,” and “Colorado Mounted Ranger.”

After lunch at the Rusty Shovel, we hiked on the Vallecito Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan National Forest. We hiked uphill about a mile with nice views of the Los Pinos River.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

On Sunday, we boarded the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for the 45.4-mile trip along the Animas River to Silverton. It took eleven months in 1881-1882 to build the original track which was used to transport ore from Silverton to Durango. A hundred years later new track was laid to accommodate passenger traffic. We were in the Alamosa Parlor Car featuring tables and chairs for two dozen passengers with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and a full bar. We were at the at the end of nine cars which gave us great views from the outdoor viewing platform. Because of fire danger from a steam locomotive a helicopter with bucket monitored us from the air and a small car followed us. During the slow climb from Durango’s 6,512-foot elevation to Silverton’s 9,318 feet we experienced a change in weather conditions. While we were in Silverton, a rain sleet greeted us. We had lunch at Handlebars Restaurant before exploring the only paved street, city hall, the public library, gift shops, Victorian-style homes, and picturesque churches. No wonder this city is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. When the last train departs as we did at 2:30, all the businesses shut down. We arrived in Durango after 6 p.m. and found an interesting menu and experimental beers at Carver Brewery.

Animas River Rafting

Animas River Rafting

On Monday, we explored Durango by hiking two trails. First, we found the Rim Trail adjacent to the impressive Fort Lewis College campus. This trail has great views of Durango asset against Smelter Mountain. We then parked in Santa Rita Park and hiked about two miles on the Animas River Trail to the modern Durango Public Library. Early in the hike we passed some unusual looking poles with strings and attachments above the river with its rapids. I later learned that Durango annually hosts a major kayak and canoe slalom event and that this year it is on June 2nd. We saw several rafters and kayakers enjoying the river.

Durango has changed significantly since my previous visit in the early 1980s. What did I learn about Durango on this visit? The Utes lived in small bands until gold was discovered in the San Juan Mountains in the 1860s. In 1882 the San Juan and New York Smelter processed lead, silver, copper, and gold. In early World War II there was a vanadium processing mill that was used to harden the steel for tanks and battleships. One of the by-products was uranium. In 1943 14 percent of the uranium used by the Manhattan Project came from here. Historically, Durango has been home to immigrants such as Italians, German, Irish, Japanese, and Finish early on for coal mining. One of the signs has a great quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants.”

Durango is a great place for outdoor activities such as hiking, golfing, mountain and road biking, off-roading, backpacking, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.

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