Durango, CO

12 July 2006

It was a beautiful day in terms of both the weather and activity. We took a trip back to yesterday on board a narrow gauge steam train. The train is operated by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The line has been in operation continuously since it was completed in 1882. The construction was completed in 11 months, quite a feat if you see some of the difficult terrain it traverses. The line was originally the Silverton Branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway and was built to service the mines in the Silverton area. Silver, gold, copper and lead were the primary minerals extracted in the area. None of the mines are currently operating.

The train runs 45 miles from Durango to Silverton along the Animas River. Most of the times the track runs along and slightly above the river. At one point, called the Highline, the track bed was blasted out of the cliffs of the Animas River Gorge at an elevation of 400 feet above the water. The train's engineer told me that the maximum grade on the track is 4% (40 feet of rise for every 1,000 feet of horizontal distance). The trip from Durango to Silverton is uphill with the exception of one small stretch on the Silverton side of the Highline, where it drops at a 4% grade. The train operates at a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour and makes two stops to take on water for the engine and a few flag stops to pick up or drop off back country hikers. It also stops at an exclusive resort, Tall Timbers, that is only accessible by the train or the resort's helicopter. Consequently, the round trip takes nine hours with a two hour layover in Silverton.

Silverton, is a town that has maintained its look over the years. Many of the buildings in town date back to the 1880 through the early years of the 20th Century. Other than the town hall, most are not housing the same businesses that they had in the peak of the mining period. Today, Silverton caters to the tourists and, most recently, to extreme skiing. Unfortunately, I pointed out a store called The Storyteller Indian Store. The store sells what looked to like high quality crafts and jewelry made by different tribal groups. Susie got into a conversation with the owner and before long, she added to her collection of Storyteller Dolls. To get "even," I bought a straw western hat.

For reasons we can't explain, we were assigned seats in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) car. This car was the first in line, behind the locomotive and tender. The front half of the car was also the baggage compartment and the conductors "office." The seating assignment was great because we met some very nice people and it made the day that much better. Glenn, a quadriplegic, his wife Monica and his sister Jeanine were seated near us and we got into conversations with them right away. By the end of the day we felt like we had known them for a long time. Susie gave Jeanine her E-mail address and hopefully we can continue the "conversations."

I shot well over 200 pictures today, mostly on the run up to Silverton. This is extreme, even by my standards. Because I was shooting from a moving train with trees and rocks blocking the view at the most inconvenient time, I took several pictures of each scene. I will be happy if 25% of my pictures are acceptable. We got back to the campground late and then got into a conversation with two couples in sites near us. The women were quilters and that got a conversation going that made dinner even later than planned. As a result of all of this, I decided not to try to go through all the pictures to pick out the ones that I would process for this page. Had I done so, I would probably be working until midnight and we want to get an early start in the morning. I will process the pictures in Moab tomorrow and update this page.

A trip to the past
Our train. First car is our car. Door at right is for baggage and wheelchair lift.
Engine 480 being hooked up to our train
Conductor's office in our car
Engine 480 data plate
Susie and Jeff, one of our conductors
Lower Animas Valley, 2 miles north of Durango
Our campground, seen from train
Climbing out of the lower valley
Some of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was shot in the valley. This stable is linking itself to that movie.
Mountain Lake
Taking on water for the engine
Climbing to the Highline
View from the Highline
View 400 feet down from The Highline
Climbing beyond The Highline. Rock cut ahead was where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid jumped on the train in the movie.
Tight clearance
Animas Gorge above The Highline
Animas above the gorge
Hikers being dropped of at a flag stop. See sign at left
The Needles
Silverton in the distance
Abandoned mine, south of Silverton
Decaying Denver and Rio Grande Railway freight cars
Last stop - Silverton
View south from Silverton
Silverton's main street
Silverton City Hall
Barbecue smoker in Silverton restaurant
Susie and her loot in front of Storyteller Indian Store
Town Jail