All Aboard! – Durango, Colorado

We have wanted to visit Durango, Colorado for some time now but our schedule would not accommodate it. That would not be the case this trip. After spending several days in New Mexico, we moved north into southern Colorado. We boondocked outside of Durango in a lovely spot in view of Madden Peak and at 8,100 feet above sea level it was nice and cool at night. From this spot we drove into the city several times.

Located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, Durango is home to about 20,000 Coloradans. It is a lovely part of the state that is about 6,000 feet high so the temperatures are very pleasant this time of the year.

As with many towns in this region, Durango was originally founded as a result of mining exploits and railroad interests. There were lucrative mines in Silverton in the San Juan Mountains north of Durango, so entrepreneurs began the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1870 to bring ore to the local smelters. The Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad was completed in a record-setting nine months. Quickly this region was flooded with prospectors and residents. The railroad company not only transported ore but also brought goods to the residents and miners. By 1885, Durango was a bustling city that had seven hotels.

Today, there are many buildings that line the streets of Durango’s historic district and date back to the 1880s and 1890s . The Palmer Hotel opened in 1898 and the Strater Hotel dates back to 1888. It is fun to stroll downtown to see not only these historic buildings but also many cute shops.

The Railroad Depot has been in the same location since 1881. After the Depression and World War II, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company suspended most of its operations save the Durango to Silverton passenger service. This 45-mile route proved to be a tourist attraction so it was spared. In 1981, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company sold this narrow gauge route to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and it has provided great experiences for many tourists who love trains and beautiful scenery. David and I chose not to take the day-long train ride since we did not want to spend the entire day on a train but friends of ours have taken the train ride and loved it. We did take in the Train Museum nearby.

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is located in the rail yard behind the Depot. This 12,000 square foot museum opened in 1998 and it has a rather eclectic collection. You can spend a long time exploring its holdings. For example, you can climb into railroad cars on display, admire an extensive model train layout, and examine old model cars. There are mannequins dressed in military uniforms and cases full of toy soldiers that commemorate specific military units throughout history. In another area, there are a number of animal trophies from this region. On the shelves are historical records available to researchers. We talked to a docent who was organizing a display of railroad nails. Places in the railroad ties, these nails indicated the date that the track was laid. There were so many interesting items in the Museum and it was free to the public.

We were in Durango during the Animas River Days. The Animas River flows through the heart of the city and there is a paved trail that goes alongside the river. There were many walkers and bikers that were enjoying this 9.4-mile trail. We saw others who were out on the river.

The Animas River Days celebration (held each year in June) began in 1983 with a whitewater rodeo event. Today this event features river surfing, kayaking, rafting, paddle boarding competitions and the popular costume river parade. We watched several groups in costume rafting down the river having a good time together. We were told that these competitions attract world renowned participants.

We enjoyed our visit to the city of Durango and we also went to our first Farmer’s Market of the season while there.

We celebrated five years of fulltime RVing this past week! Colorado is a wonderful state to explore while marking this milestone.

Next we head east to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to see the tallest sand dunes in North America.

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