Durango-to-Silverton train

Monday I spent all day on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  This train is very similar to the one I rode about a week and a half ago down in New Mexico.  Many of these trains which run over high mountains are “narrow gauge,” meaning that the track rails are only 3 feet apart as opposed to conventional trains whose track rails are 4 feet 8 inches apart.  This allows them to lay tracks on and navigate much tighter spaces.

I left home in plenty of time to get downtown and park a few blocks away from the station (for free, as opposed to paying $8 to park in their lot).  Our train departed at 845am for the slightly more than 4-hour ride north to Silverton (which is featured in the next post).  Durango is at about 6,500 feet elevation and Silverton is at about 9,300 feet so it was all uphill on the way north.  The train stopped three times to take on water for the coal-fired steam engine.

Speaking of coal, I learned during the Yard tour on Friday that on an average round-trip each train (and they run several each day, depending on demand) goes through 4-6 tons of coal.  TONS!   And the car attendant today told us that some poor soul up in the engine throws a 20-pound shovelful of coal into the engine every 4 seconds!  Yikes!  And when the trains are in Durango overnight they put wood pellets in the engines to keep them warm for the next day.

We had a 90-minute layover in Silverton for lunch.  The trip back to Durango went a little quicker (although the train averages less than 15 mph) as we only had to stop once for water and the engine didn’t have to work as hard going downhill.  We got back to Durango a little past 630pm.

This is the car I rode in, which inside was almost identical to the one I rode in on the Chama train.


The couple I shared a table with, Harry and Beverly, were visiting from Oklahoma.  They come to this area every year in their Jeep and like to travel on old mining roads and other off-road type places, mainly north of Silverton and Ouray, which is about 25 miles further north.  Beverly is a veterinarian and owns her own practice.  Her jacket had an emblem for an organization which is studying Golden Retrievers.  It is following the lives of 3,000 dogs as research into why they develop certain diseases.  Her daughter has a Golden and is participating in the study.

Ironically the couple sitting across the aisle from our table is in the process of moving to Durango from Durham!


He used to work at Fullsteam Brewery, an establishment which which I am somewhat familiar.  They are staying at another Airbnb as they hunt for a place to live.  Small world.

The scenery during the ride was a little different from what I saw on the Chama train.  We were in the mountains for most of the trip and there were trees and rocks which made it hard to take pictures at times.  There were some dramatic views as we paralleled the Animas River for most of the trip and there were great cliff views as we climbed and descended the mountain.  The windows on this car opened up, not down and it was colder outside so I rarely had the window open.  I stayed in my seat most of the time and just enjoyed the ride (and talked too much, I’m sure….).  Despite my preparations I didn’t take nearly as many pictures as I thought I would.










Silverton, Colorado

We had a 90-minute layover in Silverton before taking the train back to Durango.  Silverton is a small mining town about 45 miles north of Durango.  It sits at 9,318 feet elevation and the weather today was cold and windy, with low clouds and light precipitation.  The year-round population is only around 600, although during the peak summer months there is probably an increase with temporary workers for the restaurants and shops whose owners largely depend on train riders for their livelihood.  Silverton is accessible by car but I’m sure several trainloads of eager tourists each day is their bread and butter.

My table-mates have taken the train to Silverton for several years and said they wouldn’t mind if I tagged along with them for lunch.  They knew of a nice restaurant a few blocks from where we disembarked from the train.  There had been a train which left Durango about 45 minutes before ours and those folks were finishing up their meals so there was a brief wait for a table.  We were seated in front of a big open fireplace (which was very nice on a cold, blustery day) and I had an elk burger and a cup of green chile soup, both of which were very good.

After we ate there was only about 15 minutes before we had to be back on the train so I took a quick walk through town and took these photos.  There were tall mountains in all directions, most of which had a little bit of snow on them and some of the peaks were hard to see because of the low clouds.  I now wish I had stopped here when I drove past town about a month ago as I would have liked to have had more time to see the Victorian architecture and visit some of the shops.  I thought the train layover was longer but I was mistaken.











Mesa Verde – Various dwellings

There was a series of overlooks at an area of Mesa Verde National Park called Sun Point.  From those overlooks you could see several cliff dwellings, of various size, across Cliff Canyon.


This one was below Sun Palace (see next post) and sat on top of a cliff, exposed to the elements, unlike the others which were covered to some extent.










And from another angle:





Mesa Verde – Sun Temple

On top of the mesa, across Cliff Canyon from the Sun Point overlook, sits Sun Temple.




According to the signage, this curious structure was probably constructed near the end of the time during which people lived in the cliff dwellings below.  It has no doors, windows or firepits, and there was no evidence that it ever had a roof.  It is thought to have been left unfinished and was perhaps intended to be some type of ceremonial facility.

The Park Service added the pinkish roofing material between the walls you’ll see in the following photos, probably to divert rain water from building up inside the structure.  Some of the exterior walls were quite tall so it was difficult to see inside.






Mesa Verde – Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace is one of the largest cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park.  It has 132 rooms and 32 kivas.  It is normally open to the public for ranger-guided tours but was closed to the general public the day I was at the Park for a special function.  While I was at the overlook taking these photos there was a large group of people on the other side of Cliff Canyon, above and off to the side of Cliff Palace (you can see them if you look closely in the upper left hand corner of the first picture below), and there was a gentleman down in the ruins climbing and walking around by himself.  My guess is it was some type of archeological class and perhaps the instructor was down in the ruins pointing out specific features to his students.  Even if it had been open for tours it sounded too strenuous for me to have attempted.

These were all taken from across the canyon at another overlook:






Here are some close-ups.  The color is a little different because I am now looking at areas which are mostly in the shade: