When we planned our trip, Ben told me that we absolutely had to ride the narrow gauge rail from Durango to Silverton. I’m not totally clueless, I know that narrow gauge rail refers to a train but all my historic train rides in Ohio had been on single track laid on mostly flat ground. The rides themselves were pretty boring. Ride out four or five miles, stop, then ride backwards the same four or five miles. I love my man though so I smiled and agreed to the trip.
We arrived in Durango after weeks in Utah which is beautiful, hot dry and rocky. By contrast, this part of Colorado was green and lush with a hint of fall in the air. Aspen trees had already turned golden. The city of Durango is oh so cute, on the order of Santa Fe, Yellow Springs or Boulder. It’s packed with shops filled with cowboy and Indian stuff, lots of Reiki practitioners, holistic food and healing shops and restaurants, lots of which are ersatz “olde west saloons.” Since it’s Colorado, I do have to remark that there were also many health stores with green cross emblems displayed proudly. In case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know this, marijauna is now mostly legal in Colorado. The sign of the green cross is the stoner equivalent of Golden Arches. The names of the pot stores are—well, quaint as if some hippie addicted to Roadrunner cartoons was hired to come up with them. “Acme Health,” “Acme Care,” “Teluride Bud Company,” and “Quality Health,” were some I noticed. I did not research all the legalities, but apparently like grandmas sherry, pot is to be used “for medicinal purposes only.” I should put in a disclaimer here; though we saw many pot stores, we did not shop in any pot stores. I hate to disappoint any of you hoping for more than a train story, but the time for such shenanigans has long passed for us.
Our campground in Durango was lovely. Our Red Dog and Little Bud (Ryder and Henry, respectively) were thrilled to feel grass under their feet and there was a real dog park to run in. Ben got tickets for The Train, so our adventure was set. We were thoroughly prepped for our adventure because the train passed by our campground twice daily, tooting its whistle at every crossing. We could see the engine from the campground, chugging away. I was told this train was the model for the one in the animated Polar Express movie. On the appointed morning, we headed into downtown Durango to catch the train.
You arrive on time (you are thoroughly warned to be prompt) and board the train according to your tickets purchased. Passenger classes range from Presidential Class (21 & over) with closed cars complete wth costumed actors to tell you historic stories of the west, to Standard Class, with open cars called gondolas which are essentially benches on a flat car with roof and a guard rail so you don’t topple out as the train lurches through the mountains. Guess which kind of tickets Ben got? We were getting the cattle car experience. Brakemen and others traversed the train throughout the trip selling hot and cold drinks spiked or not, snacks and memorabilia. We bundled up and rode the three-hour trip through jaw-dropping scenery along the Animas River to Silverton. It was great. Even though it was a brisk day, being out in the open in such nature was amazing. As a bonus we got the soot and cinder experience too. If you ride outside you are required to wear sunglasses, and brakemen have eye wash stations in the cars. We managed to have no eye issues in our car. We hung over the sides as far as it was safe to do to take dozens of pictures and cheered on kayakers braving the icy rapids in the Animas below us. At times the train passed so close to the mountain you could reach out and touch the rock face. Other times, the train teetered on the edge of sheer drop-offs. Friends got off at Rockwood a few miles below Silverton to complete their journey on horseback, something we didn’t know was available. After a two hour stop in Silverton for lunch and to shop the “olde tyme T-shrt stores” (yes, there was a pot store there too) we boarded the train and rode back through the same still jaw-dropping scenery. This train turns around, so you actually get the experience of forward riding both ways. Going back it started to rain. Something else we didn’t realize was that we could have taken a bus back to Durango rather than the train. Apparently we were among a handful who did not know this, so when the brakeman offered us cattle car people a dry car with windows and seats and stuff, we grabbed a spot. Not a moment too soon as sleet pelted the windows of the train. It rained hard enough that the old train car leaked and dripped here and there, and then sleet pounded down until the ground near the rails was covered in little white ice pellets. The three hours back to Durango passed slowly inside the closed car. I was glad I rode up in the open, but happy to be in the rocking car. I admit I snoozed much of the way back.
I’m not even going to try to describe what I saw. I’ll let my camera do the talking. If anyone ever tries to talk you into riding the narrow gauge rail in Silverton, do it. Take the gondola car (aka cattle car) and experience the whole thing. It was beautiful. You’ll love it. Here’s a slide show for you to drool over!