It was our first real vacation as a married couple in the fall of 1979. Papa was a military officer; I worked as a newspaper assistant editor/reporter in a place far from our home state. Consequently, our vacations were jaunts back ‘home’ to visit our families.
But we wanted to explore places new to us and after growing a tad weary of seemingly endless flat prairie land, we longed to visit mountains and forests. So that September, we decided to drive from Oklahoma through New Mexico and into the San Juan Mountains (part of the Rockies) of southwestern Colorado.
Luckily for us, one of my co-workers traveled there every summer for a family reunion, so she suggested a great itinerary of spots to visit.
We booked a little one-bedroom log cabin at Silver Streams Lodge near Vallecito Lake, CO in the San Juan National Forest in September and were surprised to find we were the only people there other than the owners/managers. Of course, summers and winters are busier seasons for that area.
We hiked and enjoyed the peace, quiet, and change of scenery. But the highlight of our vacation was day trips to Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Mesa Verde. Today on our Tuesday Tour, I’m showcasing the Durango-Silverton area.
Even back then in his 20’s, Papa was a railroad enthusiast, and he was excited for us to embark on a day-long excursion via the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a train with both steam and diesel locomotives that has continued operation for almost 140 years to date.
What an amazing trip! Boarding the train in the historic town of Durango, passengers travel 45 miles up the mountains for 3½ hours and arrive in the old mining settlement of Silverton.
In 1880, Durango was founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. Once the railroad was established there the next year, construction on tracks up the mountain to Silverton began and were completed by the summer of 1882. The train hauled both passengers and freight, especially silver and gold ore mined in the San Juan Mountains.
We departed in the morning and arrived in Silverton, nestled in the valley of the mountains, where we ate lunch and enjoyed a couple hours browsing the shops there. Of course, Papa posed in front of the train’s engine on our arrival, and I posed in the open rail car, our choice on the way back down the mountain to Durango on another 3 ½ hour trip.
The magnificent views we experienced, inaccessible by highway, awed us. My old 35mm film photos and my not-so-great photography skills back then don’t do them justice, but you get the idea.
Even back in the late 1970’s, both Durango and Silverton (watch a nice video here) had plenty of restaurants and shops to visit and now even more so (500 shops in the Durango area), but nature and outdoor activities as well as the narrow gauge train trip are the true gems and tourist attractions of that area of Colorado.
Next week on our Tuesday Tour, I’ll show you other spectacular spots we visited on our trip to southwestern Colorado including Ouray and Mesa Verde.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~ John Muir