DURANGO, Colo., July 9, 2015 — Located in the southwest corner of Colorado, nestled alongside the majestic San Juan Mountains, Durango was founded as a railroad town by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad as they were expanding their mining operations to Silverton. Today, with its cowboy roots still intact, this city is more popular than ever, attracting tourist from as far away as Germany to explore its western past and present.
While there are many reasons to visit Durango, here are some of the best:
Durango and Silverton Railroad
This ride on a coal powered, steam locomotive through the San Juan Mountains is a truly spectacular experience which is why 200,000 passengers ride this train annually. Your journey starts right in the center of town on Main Ave. and takes you to the historic mining town of Silverton. You can return to Durango on the train or by motor coach. Unbelievably, each of these trips requires a fireman to shovel 120,000 pounds of coal, one load at a time.
During the fall the leaves have changed, turning bright yellow and orange as you wind your way through the canyons and alongside the Animas River. There are different classes of service, starting at about $97 for adults. Be sure to wear layered clothing as temps can dip and climb during the journey.
This is accessible by train and is located in an old growth forest. Soaring Adventures is a tree-top, high-octane, zip-line experience which they claim everyone from ages 4-91 can enjoy. The operators boast the “longest” and “safest” zip line course of its kind. Twenty-six lines let you traverse through Ponderosa Pines with some of the final ones taking you 1,400 feet across the Animas River. This is an all-day excursion that includes a four-course lunch. Be sure you bring your cameras for this one! The price is $499 per person, which includes your first class ticket on the Durango and Silverton Railroad.
The town of Silverton is accessible by car, but the best way to get there is by train on the D&SNGRR. Formerly, this was a silver mining camp, but today it is primarily a tourist destination owing to its popularity as a National Historic Landmark District.
There are only a few streets in Silverton, lined with various shops and restaurants. Some have colorful names, like “Shady Lady,” “Natalia’s 1912 Restaurant,” and “Handlebars.” The last is wildly decorated with a modified Western, eclectic theme and customers rave about the food.
Silverton’s history was as notorious as you might expect from a town built on miners and silver. Gambling, prostitution and saloons were standard fare on Blair Street, and at one point in 1883, a grand jury levied a 117 count indictment against the “lewd women,” located there.
Wandering about the streets today visitors now find ice cream, Mexican food, silver and turquoise jewelry, the old Silverton jail (now a business), and some interesting local characters dressed in costume and narrating what life was like in town when silver was king!
Food and Drink
For its size, Durango has a lot of dining options. In fact, it has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. Everything from small cafes where locals hang out (try Oscar’s for breakfast) to elegant, fine-dining restaurants is available in and around the downtown area.
If you like beers, then you will love what has been called “The City of Brewery Love,” or the “Napa Valley of Beer.” There are no fewer than five craft breweries in Durango, including Steamworks Brewing Company, Ska Brewing Company, and Carver’s Brewing Company. Carver’s is also a hot spot for food and grub with locals; while you are there, check out the gigantic Schwinn bicycle out back.
The town doesn’t stop at brick and mortar eateries; it keeps on the culinary edge with plenty of food festivals celebrating wine, coffee, beer, apples, chocolate and a thriving agritourism business.
Like Silverton, the downtown area of Durango is also a Nationally Registered Historic District. You can explore the area on foot or take one of the old fashioned red trolleys that criss-cross the town.
The Strater Hotel is one of the most impressive downtown landmarks, constructed with 376,000 red bricks. It was built in 1887 by the then 27-year old Henry H. Strater, who set out to build the largest and grandest hotel in the West. He succeeded and many notable people have stayed here including Louis L’Amour, who penned many of his Sackett novels in room 222.
The hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon is where you can go to have a meal, a drink and ragtime piano entertainment in a setting right out of a Western movie. The hard working saloon girls serve patrons dressed in historical costumes and will stop to pose with patrons for a friendly photo.
Like many Western towns of the time, gunfights were common, and on certain nights gunslingers from the Diamond Belle re-enact some of these on the street right outside the saloon.
Just down the block at the El Morro Spirits and Tavern was the site of an infamous shootout. Town Marshall Jessie Stansel reportedly shot local sheriff William J. Thompson to death, allegedly for his lack of gaming enforcement within the establishment.
Many movies were shot in and around Durango including Across the Great Divide, Cliffhanger and City Slickers. Today you can relive some of you cowboy dreams and see some movie memorabilia at the renovated Rochester House, in one of their Western themed rooms.
Durango has been awarded many accolades over the years including “Top 10 Western Towns 2013,” “Top 10 American Train Trips,” and “Top 10 U.S. Travel Destinations in 2012” by Lonely Planet. If you’re looking for an authentic, Western experience then put Durango on your next vacation list. Adventure awaits!.
Where to stay:
The Best Western Rio Grande has some of the most comfortable beds I have ever encountered, first class housekeeping experience and a friendly, hospitable staff.