PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
Once every week or 10 days, we need to stop to take care of accumulated chores and errands. This time we stopped in Durango Colorado. It turned out to be a delightful stay.
Durango is a picturesque small town nestled in a valley. It's blessed with beautiful surrounding country, though the high altitude makes winters harsh. RV parks in the area were only just opening up.
There's a lot to like about Durango. They have a functioning narrow gauge steam train that makes daily runs up to an old mining town called Silverton. The train seems to be a major focus for the local folks. In addition to running the train, they also have a nice museum with a working maintenance shop.
We arrived on Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) and our desire to be in the swing of things prompted us to go bike riding through the Main Street of town. We found a delightful restaurant, Francisco's, in which we had a scrumpdillyicious Cinco de Mayo lunch.
We had learned that the next day was the annual Opening Day party when the narrow gauge train between Durango and Silverton starts running. We decided to join in, lured by free hotdogs, music, and free admission to the museum. Rain clouds loomed overhead but that didn't deter it from being a well attended party. It seemed that most of the attendees were local folk, with lots of pre-school ages children. There was even a country music band. Several attendees were outfitted in period dress and were more than pleased to pose for photos. There were also many 'official' looking railroad workers in their oily jean overalls and conductor style hats.
A locomotive that looked like 'Thomas' from the children's TV show was loaded with the small children for the inaugural run. The kids had a ball. It was a joy watching them have fun and squealing with delight. The timing was perfect in that the rain held off until the kids had departed the train. With this auspicious beginning, surely, parents and train workers alike were pleased with the day.
The train isn't Durango's only attraction. The old town area is a nice place to stroll and window shop. In addition to shops, there are also some good restaurants downtown. We had a delightful Mothers Day dinner at a place called the 'Mahogany Grill' inside the wonderfully restored Strater Hotel.
Another attraction is the Anamis River, which runs near town. It was running pretty wild and wooly with ample spring rains and snowmelt. The river provides a nice route for a bike trail through town. The Anamis is also a venue for whitewater rafting trips, kayaking, and fishing. Dry suits looked like a requirement for a raft trip.
On a whim, we decided to take the scenic drive northward along Hwy 550 past Silverton to Ridgway, then west on Hwy 62 and then southward on Hwy 145 past Telluride on our way to Cortez on Hwy 160. The drive was an adventure in itself! AAA had designated most of it a scenic drive but parts of it was absolutely spectacular. The road from Durango to Silverton was a steady climb into the high country where the passes and peaks still wore a heavy blanket of snow. Apparently some of it was from a recent snowfall that must have been cursed by the narrow gauge rail workers who had to clear the tracks before inaugural day. Cresting the pass before Silverton took us to just over 10,900 feet, which was higher than we had ever driven the coach before. It was a record that wouldn't last the day.
Silverton is an odd place. Established as a mining town, it thrives on tourism in a climate that is hostile to tourists for the vast majority of the year. It struck us as a restored ghost town aiming to please the crowds provided by the steam train from Durango. Perhaps it really is a ghost town when winter envelopes the mountain passes.
The highway out of Silverton climbs ever higher as it winds it's way up over 11,000 feet at Red Mountain Pass. Crawling up switchbacks so tight we were glad our RV isn't any larger, we were treated to spectacular views of many 14,000 foot tall peaks. Steep drop-offs and the remains of recent avalanches that had swept across the road tempered the awesome scenery. Colorado certainly didn't disappoint us in terms of gorgeous alpine panoramas. Did you know they have over 30 14,000+ foot peaks?
We spent the remainder of the day driving in high alpine meadows in early spring dress, and through mountain passes so high that they would have been exceptional on any other day. Once we arrived in Cortez we headed east along Hwy 160 to a campsite near Mesa Verde National Park.