You can see the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado from Aztec, New Mexico and they are breathtaking even as a mere shadow on the horizon. As we got closer and could see them clearly they only became more imposing as they surround the little town of Durango.
The town sits in the southwest corner of the state not far from Mesa Verde National Park. It was founded as a railroad town in the 19th century, a place to carry supplies to mines deeper into the mountains. The main road through town, U.S. 550 roughly parallels the train tracks to Silverton then over high mountain passes to Ouray. The stretch of 550 from Silverton to Ouray is called the Million Dollar Highway and it’s one of the most beautiful roads in the U.S., also one of the scariest to drive because of the tight turns and the sheer drop offs. We passed up this route to Ouray and instead took a longer route. Maybe we’ll do it when we have more practice driving our house.
The downtown area is compact and easily walkable, and there are so many great little shops and restaurants you can stay busy for a couple days checking them out. But, if you are just arriving, you might want to give yourself a day or two to get used to the 6500 foot elevation before you try to go exploring. In our case, we had already spent a week in Santa Fe at 7000 feet, so we were pretty well acclimated. But, we still made sure to use sunscreen, wear a hat outside and drink plenty of water.
Our first day of exploring began with lunch at a brew pub. After a flight of beers and an excellent meal we walked the length of downtown, ducking into shops that caught our eye. Not surprisingly, many of the shops sell outdoor clothing and gear, but, there are many shops to appeal to almost any interest. If you like chocolate, then don’t miss Animas Chocolate and Coffee on Main Avenue. Their truffles are incredible!
After walking through the main shopping area we found our way onto the Animas River Trail. This seven mile paved path connects to many of the city’s parks and serves as an important part of the city’s transit system. It follows alongside the Animas River and connects neighborhoods to the downtown area and shopping areas further out. It’s a great place to walk, but watch out for the many bicycles that use the path to commute to and from work!
Our last full day in Durango was Carolyn’s birthday so we booked a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Because of Covid 19 the train isn’t doing its usual run to Silverton, instead passengers embark at Rockwood Station about 18 miles north of Durango for a two hour scenic ride to Cascade Canyon and back.
To insure social distancing the train cars were only half filled, and the day we rode, our car only had five other groups so we had lots of space to move around during the two hour ride. Even though we were getting a shorter ride, it was still well worth going. And, if you go, I highly encourage you to book your seat in one of the gondolas which are open air train cars. The cars are open from about waist high and you seat faces the open sides so there is nothing to obstruct the scenery as you travel. Believe me you will want to see everything!
The two hour ride took us through breath taking scenery, past rivers and mountains with the train seemingly clinging to the mountainside past steep drops into the river valley below. Since the car had so few people in it we were able to get up and change sides in the car to get the best view as the train made its way to Cascade Canyon.
Where We Ate
Steamworks Brewing Company: Located on the corner of E 2nd Avenue and W 8th Street, this place offers great food along with some very good beers. We got a flight along with lunch and followed it up with a delicious Strawberry Rhubarb Panna Cotta for dessert. Their IPA called Sultan of Stoke was perfect for a hot day with its tropical flavor. But, our favorite was the Red Eye, the first taste made me melt and it was the first glass emptied in our flight.
Seasons of Durango: We went here to celebrate Carolyn’s birthday after we spent the morning on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The dining room is beautiful, but we opted to sit on their rear patio because it was a beautiful day. Carolyn had the roasted chicken and I had the Fennel Pollen Dusted Salmon Filet. Our waitress was friendly and very helpful in navigating the menu.
We packed a lot into three days in Durango and we both fell in love with the town. But, there is still so much to do and see. When we return we want to get out of town and on to one of the many hiking trails that surround the city. And, maybe, tackle the Million Dollar Highway. After a quick bite, of course, and maybe something from Animas Chocolate and Coffee!