Saturday, August 24, 2013

Durango - Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway

Roger here...  Since we began our travels five years ago, many people told us that the Durango to Silverton steam train excursion was not to be missed.  They were right.

The planning for this adventure actually began several weeks ago when we reserved our seats.  I am glad we planned early (for those of you who know me, big surprise, right?) because all the spaces on our rail car were occupied.  

On the day of the trip we arrived 45 minutes before boarding (big surprise, right?).  As we started to get a seat on one of the benches, a friendly conductor suggested that we check out the free attached museum.  It would have been a shame to have missed it.  The large space was filled with memorabilia (large and small) from 1881, the year that railway was completed, which was also the year that the town of Durango was founded.   The green rail car in the above photo is a replica of the car that was blown up in one of my favorite movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  BTW, I loved the red car in the foreground.  What was that sound?  All Aboard!

I should have counted the cars on the train, but did not.  Suffice it to say, there were many.  

Look at all those stragglers who waited until the last minute to get on the train.

Our rail car, the Silver Vista, was located one car back from the end of the train.  It was an open car with comfortable padded seats.  Oh, and it had a glass roof.  More pictures of that later.

The three-and-a-half hour trip to Silverton paralleled the Animas River.  The first leg of the journey took us through the neighborhoods of Durango and several interesting sights before our ascent.  These whitewater rafters look like they are having fun.  Dianne and I did this a few times in West Virginia and Idaho when we were younger.  I might like to do it again someday.

We passed by the Alpen Rose RV Park, our home for three days.

This dog chased us for about five minutes, very determined to stop the train.  The dog's owner (picture too blurry to publish) followed along on horseback.  The dog evidently chases the train on a regular basis.

This shot gives you an idea of the various traveling options.  There were a couple of other open cars (without glass roofs) and several enclosed cars.  All the cars had different levels of service and snacks.  I must say that we spent a little more for our car, but you get what you pay for.  It was worth it.  More on that later.  BTW, look at the picture above and notice the dark smoke hanging in the air.  Some of the soot drifts down into the train cars, especially near the front of the train.  Even at the back of the train we had the fun of dusting a little bit of soot off our clothes.  It did not stain.   The soot did stick to the sunscreen on my face :-)   They encourage sunglasses or glasses to avoid getting cinders in your eyes.

Soon after passing this pretty lake, the rocks of the canyon closed in on us and we began our true ascent.

The glass roof gave us an added perspective to the rugged beauty of the area.

As you can see in the photo below, we were allowed to mill about during the trip.  No seatbelts here.  The train did not move rapidly.  It did, as expected, rock from side to side.  The young lady wearing black and gray is Heather.  She was our tour guide, snack (delicious breakfast pastries) provider, souvenir vendor, drink provider, and bartender (full bar).  She also seemed to be best friends with everyone in the Durango - Silverton area.  She was amazing and really added to the experience.

(Dianne here:  The scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they rob a train by jumping onto it from the rocky ledges above was filmed right here.)

I showed you a shot of the rock wall on one side of the train.  This was our view from the other side.  The Animas River was shrinking (at least for a while.

Dianne took quite a few pictures of the river gorge and mountains.  Here are a few of the best:

Remember the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Robert Redford and Paul Newman were cornered on a ledge?  The question was whether they should jump off the ledge into the water.  Redford said something like, "Do you think they'll follow us if we jump?"  Newman said, "Hell, the fall will kill ya."  Heather told us that scene was filmed along this stretch.  Does the picture below look familiar?

OK.  Enough of the never-ending scenery for a while.  During the trip, Dianne took a picture of me with a very spicy bloody mary that Heather brought, and posted it on Facebook.  Our camping buddies from Indiana refer to this concoction as breakfast juice.  It is time for me to get even.

Look!  Dianne got some breakfast juice, too.  It looks as if she sucked it right down.  

A couple more scenery shots...

Love the color of the rushing river water.

Look carefully at the photo below.  In the middle and very slightly to the left you can see a man on a zip line.  A zip line!  I want to do this.  This particular zip line park, Tall Timbers Resort, is rated number one in North America and is only accessible by the Durango - Silverton Railway. 

The train made several short stops during the trip to pick-up/drop-off hikers and zipliners.  It also stopped three times to take on water.  It is, after all, powered by a steam engine.

As we neared Silverton, several interesting things happened in quick succession:

The plant life changed from a high desert habitat to an alpine habitat as the air thinned and the temperature dropped - about ten degrees.  Gotta love those Aspen trees.

We found ourselves back at river level, and the sky started to cloud up.  Rain?  Heather said that it rains most days in Silverton this time of year.  We did bring our rain jackets, so we were good.  Heather promised to wipe off our seats if they got wet.

The tall mountains that surrounded us became more visible as we exited the gorge.

A refreshing waterfall welcomed us as we pulled into town.

We had a couple of hours to explore the old mining town of Silverton before the return trip.  This isolated county seat -- and the only town in the county -- obviously now thrives on tourism.  The only other access to the town is Highway 550 (the twisty, steep and striking million dollar highway).  We drove the Toyota on 550 out of Ouray last year, but did not make it all the way to Silverton.  Kind of a colorful place.

The main street (the only paved street) is about three blocks long. There were also interesting shops and restaurants on the dirt/gravel streets near the train depot.  Many of the authentic buildings that now cater to tourists were once bordellos.  Seems to be a trend in this part of the country.  Hmmm?  Oh, and it did rain, but not enough to spoil anyone's fun.

We ate lunch at an old bar named Grumpy's.  The food was good (I had the signature French onion soup), but the draw to this place was the Victorian/stained glass atmosphere and the live ragtime music.  Lacey sits right by the door and greets guests while she plays her piano.  She has been playing piano at Grumpy's for eight years.  If you did not notice the sign hanging from the piano, it says, "It is not a player piano.  It is a piano player."  I especially liked her rendition of the theme from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid --- something else that seems to be a theme in these parts.

Howdy pardner.  How about a whiskey for your grandpa and a sarsparilla for you?

The trip back down to Durango was much the same as the trip up, only in reverse.  So I am close to wrapping up this admittedly long and photo-intensive post.  Just a couple more things.

Notice all the people hanging out the side of the train, mostly taking pictures?   We were encouraged to do this, BUT Heather urged us to be aware of our surroundings.

Some of the rocks come to within eight inches of the train, and the foliage even closer.  The railway actually does a sweep of the tracks to pick up any lost hats, jackets, cameras, arms (just kidding), and takes them to lost and found at the depot.  I do have concerns about whether the cameras would be in working order after falling from this train.

This was an amazing day that lived up to its billing.  The train was fascinating and unique.  The scenery was spectacular.  The atmosphere was relaxing.  The weather was good (even the light rain).  Silverton was intriguing.  However, years from now, as these memories fade, I suspect that I will still remember Heather's enthusiasm, her contagious smile, her extensive knowledge, her animated sense of humor, and her kindness and attentiveness to everyone.  Oh sure, she did bring us gifts (tote bag, coffee mugs and fudge).  She did bring us drinks (water, coffee, soda, breakfast juice) --- Dianne's Dreamscicle concoction and my beer on the return trip hit the spot.  However, the thing that made her special was that she was truly a nice person who enjoyed making people happy.  Back in my school principal days, I would have hired her in an instant.  I hope that the Durango-Silverton Railway knows what a gem they have.

We are in Creede, Colorado right now for a return visit.  We are here mainly to relax, but we will try to find some new adventures to report.  The first order of business for me is to recover from a pesky bout with the flu.  This irritates me because I seldom get sick.  Making lemonade from lemons, I can't think of a more relaxing place to veg out in a lawn chair and look at the mountains while I recover.

The pet pictures of the day show that Bandido and Tequila had just as much fun as we did on train day.  We took them to doggie daycare at Healthy Hounds and Fat Cats, a facility that caters to the train crowd.  They post photos each day on their Facebook page so that patrons can see who their dogs played with during the time that they were there.  Here are my favorite shots downloaded from their Facebook page, with captions: 
Let's Play!!

What are you grinning about??  You are SUCH a brown-noser!!


Lori Moore said...

Creede, Colorado ! Won my heart ! We absolutely fell in love with this small town ! Not sure if you have done the complete Bachelor Loop drive. Beautiful ! If you do and stop at the Last Chance Mine, parking is limited and scary ! But, they are VERY dog friendly. Keep your pups on a leash though. Diane, if you need your hair done while in Creede, be sure to visit the Blue Yak Salon, across from Kips.

Bill and Nancy said...

What a great day?? The train ride and scenery were spectacular!!