Day 7

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ride Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

8 am breakfast
Wake to the smell of baking bread and morning pastries wafting under the door of our room. The dining room and kitchen are right outside our suite – which we chose for its convenience. Take quick showers, pack and step out into the dining room where a freshly prepared breakfast is laid out on the buffet bar and side table. There are several fresh fruit choices, cereals (hot & cold), yogurt, coffee and sweet rolls. Eggs to order.  A waiter delivers juice and coffee to our table. Our travel companions (from Holland) have joined us.  Great, filling, delicious fare.

9:15 am meet at Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train depot
Our luggage loaded on our bus, we walk to the depot a few short streets away at the edge of town. A crisp sunny and clear morning. The depot is a well maintained Victorian structure, where you buy your ticket, browse the gift shop and wait for boarding to be announced.

William J Palmer (Civil War General) laid 45 miles of track connecting Durango to remote Silverton to transport tons of silver mined out of the Rockies. That was 1882. Rich mineral deposits found in the area were laid down from a volcanic eruption eons ago. Mining started in 1874 and continued until 1990. Many factors depressed the challenged mining industry but Hollywood’s silver screen brought revitalizing tourism to the area and a renewed interest in train travel and train history with western movies filmed in beautiful Colorado featuring trains in the action. The most famous film may be “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”.

The Railroad Museum’s undistinguished exterior hides the treasures to be found inside. A huge room is filled with RR memorabilia, art, photos, maps, scale models, real coaches and engines, a vintage firetruck, etc.  Its impossible to take it all in. Free entry with train ticket.

With boarding accomplished we begin to explore the mostly historic rolling stock. The exception is the glass roofed car. It will allow us to view the 600 feet of rock above us and the Animas River 400 feet below us when we pass through the narrowest part of the 2 mile long “high line” portion of the trip. On board are narrators dressed in period clothing. They take on the persona of an actual person involved in settling the West. Their tales, first-person storytelling, is for riders who want to know who settled the area, what it took to build the railroad, the historic significance of the areas we’re traveling through, when a great photo moment is coming up and who lived in that cabin in the middle of nowhere.

9:45 am train departs for Cascade Canyon
Our engine pulls out of the station taking a route straight through town. The train whistle is blowing, bells are ringing at crossroads, and traffic is patient. People wave to us as we pass. Starting at an elevation of 6500 feet the train will climb gradually into the San Juan Mountains. The D&S Iron Horses are authentically restored – all 3,000 parts working in perfect symphony. It is thrilling to feel the rumble, see the steam blasts, hear the whistle blow in the canyon…and catch it’s echo.  The rocking motion relaxes all on board. Soon there are no houses, no signs of human occupation – only land, water, stone and forest.

One can’t help wondering and marveling at the vision, courage, tenacity, ingenuity it took to blast narrow ledges into the rock faces for the tracks to be laid. Our engine slows in the high line taking the turns slowly. Passengers hang out the open windows or step out on the small connecting platforms between cars to take pictures or get the best views. The mountains are vast, rock faces sheer, a river runs 400 feet below us, and the forest scents the air. The trip is amazing – said to be one of the most beautiful scenic train trips – anywhere.

We do not travel to Silverton on this trip as snow is blocking the track beyond Cascade Canyon. Lunch on board at about 12:30 and we start the return trip. The valley looks different at this time of day. Colors are brighter revealing the geologic upheavals of the past. Men fish in the river, horses feed on new grass as Durango comes back into view. 2:30 pm train arrives back in Durango.

3 pm depart for Cortez
We exit the train and board our bus for the next stop, Cortez. Skies have changed from sunny to overcast giving a different look to the landscape.

Durango-Cortez 39 miles

5 pm arrive Cortez, check in Baymont Inn & Suites on edge of town
Our room faces the valley giving us a view of a pink and purple sunset. Spacious pool in the hotel center but no time for that. Located in the SW corner of Colorado at 37°20′57″N 108°34′45″W Cortez is a high desert “Gateway”. Gateway to Canyon Country so closely proximal to Utah’s Canyonlands; Gateway to Mesa Verde – only 15 miles to the National Park entrance; Gateway to the mountains – La Plata and San Juan Mountain Ranges are visible from town. This unique area with awe-inspiring scenery, is one of America’s richest archaeological centers, with scenic byways and historic trails passing through town. Crossroads Culture Walk guides downtown visitors through town history and 1890-1930 buildings.

7 pm dinner The Farm Bistro
They serve “the best local produce and meat from Montezuma County”. Award winning burgers, salads, sandwiches highlight the menu. This is “comfort food with style”- homemade simplicity with great flavors in a warm and lively atmosphere. Food, as advertised, is local, unique, very tasty. The lounge features all-Colorado beer, wine and spirits! The restaurant also has a retail market selling locally grown and/or crafted products…cheese, eggs, purple potatoes, honeys, jams, lotions, soaps. Sutcliffe Winery, a local winery hosts a tasting tonight. McElmo Canyon, short drive south of Cortez, is home to a growing viticulture micro-industry. We’ve no time to visit the Canyon so very opportune to have this tasting. At a very large communal table we intermingle with locals who tell us about their hometown. (Cortez is notably home to Osprey Packs, the leading manufacturer of backpacks and travel gear.) Cortez Cultural Center around the corner provides a glimpse into current American Indian culture. There are special events all year long – during the summer free Indian dances are performed 6 nights a week.

One day just isn’t enough to take in all the history, culture, craft, local foods, wines. We need to come back!

overnight Baymont Inn & Suites
Fall asleep immediately – been a full day and we’re up early again tomorrow.

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