Durango, Colorado Inspires Dreamers, Even When It’s Minus 9

durango coloradoIt’s nine degrees below zero Fahrenheit and I’m the only soul out for a walk in downtown Durango on a Friday night. Everyone else in this idyllic town of about 16,000 in the southwest corner of Colorado is sensibly rushing into and out of businesses and some leave their cars running outside while they pop into shops or restaurants. It’s my first night in a town that I’ve imagined as a kind of adventure playground utopia and I have no intention of sitting in my warm hotel room watching TV.

Durango is a town that shows up on all kinds of best places lists. Outside magazine appears to crown Durango as the best something or other almost every year – in 2012 it was named one of their best new adventure hubs and one of America’s best river towns, and on at least two prior occasions, it was on their list of best towns. In recent years, my wife and I have been fantasizing about moving to a smaller, more laid back community and I’ve long been convinced that Durango would be a great place to live despite never having stepped foot in the place.

If you like to ski, snowboard, mountain bike and hike, you’re spoiled on choices within a short drive of Durango and a little further afield you have five national parks in Southern Utah plus the otherworldly Monument Valley and the Grand Staircase. There are a lot of places that people relocate to for jobs, but Durango is just the opposite – it’s mostly a refuge for outdoorsy people who are fleeing the big city rat race.

Before I landed in town, I met three people who loved the place so much that they found a way to live there, two in the airport and one on my flight in. Durango native Gregory Martin overheard me talking on the phone in the Denver airport about trying to find a medicine man on the Navajo Reservation and asked if I was “into sweat lodges” and things of that nature.

We got to talking and Martin told me he was a wilderness therapist at a place called Open Sky Wilderness, which helps heal troubled youths by bringing them out to live in a rustic, natural setting in the wilderness for two to three months. After talking to Gregory, I met a young man from Virginia who is studying music at Fort Lewis College in Durango. He visited the place and fell in love with it and his parents were sold when they found out that he could get free tuition because he’s ¼ Comanche Indian (the college provides free tuition to Native Americans).

“How did you prove you were Native American?” I asked, curious to know how a kid who looked very white could make the cut as a Native American.

“When I was born my dad got a card for me on the reservation, it’s kind of like a social security card – it proves I have Native American roots,” he explained.

And on the flight into Durango, a pilot who convinced NetJets, his employer, to allow him to base there about six years ago, sold me on the place.

“It would be a great place to grow up,” he said, and all I had to do was look over his shoulder at the dramatic, snow-capped mountains out the window to see what he meant.

durango strater hotelEven after all the hype, I liked Durango immediately. The Animas River flows right behind Main Street, which is anchored at one end by a vintage train station where you can take the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge train, which has been in continuous operation for more than 130 years. I was bundled up and ready for the biting cold and the frigid night air felt oddly invigorating. Heat saps my energy and turns me into a sloth, but the cold puts a spring in my step, especially when there’s no wind.

On this bitter evening, the stars were out in force, the town was eerily quiet and the squeaky sounds of my shoes making impressions in the snow seemed oddly melodic.

I walked almost every block of Durango’s walkable, Wild West meets hip ski town center and felt like the place had pretty much everything I needed: two good bookstores, two brewpubs right downtown and two more nearby (four breweries in a city of 16,000!?), a nice collection of independent restaurants and shops, and a pleasant lost-in-time vibe.

I passed two old hotels, the Strater and the General Palmer, places advertising “Old West Photos” and Cowgirl apparel, a Tibetan Shop, a music store advertising “compact discs and tapes,” a Nepali, Indian and Tibetan restaurant and a shop selling a T-shirt, which read: OMG WTF is happening to the English language?

I had a glass of Colorado Kolsch at Steamworks Brewing and noticed that guys with ponytails shared baskets of peanuts with guys in cowboy hats and middle-aged ski bunnies in fluffy boots. When I asked a couple what the worst thing about Durango was they laughed.

“That’s a tough one,” the guy said. “We love it here.”

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

Mexico: Safer But Not Safe Says Travel Warning


Troubled with crime, Mexico has been on the bad list of places to visit for quite some time. But the situation is improving. Murders of U.S. citizens are down. Drug-related violence seems limited to isolated areas of the country. But a new warning issued by the U.S. Department of State urges caution.

The State Department is warning travelers to “defer nonessential travel” to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas in Mexico. The continuing concern involves Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) that are “engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity,” says the State Department warning.

The latest travel warning urged caution when visiting Mexico, including Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, saying travelers “should exercise extreme caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.”

Giving credit to an improving situation in Mexico, the State Department notes that 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in the first six months of 2012, compared with 113 in all of 2011. Still, the number of kidnappings and disappearances throughout Mexico is of concern with both local and expatriate communities victimized.Casting a more positive light to illuminate efforts being taken to improve the situation, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete of the Mexico Tourism Board said the protection of tourists “is at the pinnacle of importance to the Mexican government,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, festivals and events continue in Mexico and draw big crowds. Fifteen thousand people turned out for a mass yoga class in Mexico City, once a central location in the drug wars ravaging the country, now an area where no advisory is in place, as we see in this video:

[Photo Credit- Flickr user MattMawson]

2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge Begins Today

The 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge beings todayThe 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge is set to get underway this morning in Durango, Colorado, where 126 of the world’s best cyclists will hit the road for the first stage of the race. The event, which is in its second year, will cover 683 miles (1099 kilometers) over the next seven days, finishing on Sunday, August 26, in Denver.

The event, which is being billed as “America’s Race,” features a field of riders that is deep and talented. Amongst them is defending champ Levi Leipheimer, who is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered in April. He’ll be joined on the course by 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali and Americans George Hincapie and Tejay Van Garderen – a rising star in the sport.

One of the hallmarks of last year’s Pro Cycling Challenge was the high altitude and this year will be no different. While European races feature plenty of tough climbing, those events aren’t at such a consistently high altitude. Much of the Pro Cycling Challenge takes place above 10,000 feet (3048 meters) and riders will have to endure more than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) of total vertical gain over the course of the week.

Today’s first stage is 125.6 miles (202.1 kilometers) in length and runs from Durngo to Telluride. It features a tough climb up to Lizard Head Pass before a 15-mile (24.1-kilometer) blistering descent to the finish line. The following days will feature similar action, including more tough climbs that end with summit-top finishes and an individual time trial on the final day.

Cycling fans can follow the event live on the race’s website and the Radioshack Tour Tracker mobile app.