10 days, 10 states: Durango, Colorado

“I’m going back to Colorado, rolling down the highway, just my life to carry, it’s written in the wind again” -Ozark Mountain Daredevils

From the corner barstool of Carver Brewing Co., my earthy colored oatmeal stout is a welcome compliment to the outdoor mountain air. Set in the heart of Durango, Colorado’s gridlined downtown, the eclectic crowd of trendy college students and weather-hardened ranchers is mirthfully keeping the craft-brewed taps flowing.

Aside from being the dark, perfectly roasted flavor of my Iron Horse stout, the flavor of oatmeal is an apt metaphor for what is southwestern Colorado’s largest town; home to a population of 16,000 residents, Durango is large enough to be eventful, but small enough to seem homey. Like the porridge, it’s just about right.

I’ve come to Durango whilst researching, “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, and during a leisurely amble down the banks of the Animas River, its brisk waters aglow with fallen yellow leaves, it’s a safe bet to say that this town is really growing on me. Fast.

First populated by the Anasazi tribes, Native Americans whose cavernous stone cliff dwellings have made nearby Mesa Verde National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durango became a Western boomtown when gold was discovered in the nearby San Juan mountains.Though the gold was fleeting, the iron rails were not, and by 1881 trains were officially linking Durango to the rest of the wild west.

Over my morning cup of coffee, an extra large to-go style cup from one of the historic downtown’s many artsy cafes, I find myself standing with a railroad operator who’s manning the tracks of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. A 45-mile system of track that weaves its way between the two historic mining towns, the train has been described by various outlets as being the best train ride in all of North America. Using original locomotives from the 1920’s still propelled by steam and coal, the line has swapped cars full of mineral ores and precious metals for camera-toting tourists who’ve come to salivate over the view of the snow-covered high mountain passes.

%Gallery-139132%Relishing the last few drops of my coffee, I watch in romantic awe as wide, white puffs of smoke explode from the front of the train and linger in the frozen morning air. As carloads of families thunder by me, all of them embarking on a legendary foray through the San Juans, I realize that I, too, want to be toting a camera aboard the train. I want to salivate over that view.

In fact, as I retrace my steps towards Rotary Park, the type of calming, riverside open space you’d expect to find in a college town (Fort Lewis College keeps Durango vibrant and young), I am loathe to leave this Rocky Mountain hamlet. Sure, I have the rest of the country to go and explore, but for the time being, I like it here. And I really want to stay.

Much of the chatter around the brewpub in town, I noticed, was centered around two central topics: how good the mountain biking had been that past summer, and how good the winter was shaping up to be at nearby Durango Mountain Resort, the local ski slope and recreation paradise just twenty minutes outside of town.

These, I noted, are both things I really enjoy doing. I like biking, I like boarding, and I really love a good brewery. I like small towns where you can wander down main street to peruse the galleries of award winning photographers, yet that are only twenty miles removed from open countryside where you might stumble upon something as classically western as a fast-paced livestock auction.

With winter bearing down on my new favorite mountain town, however, it’s time to once again slink behind the wheel and head south for warmer climes; there’s a freedom in these mountains, and it makes me want to drive.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”

Steam Engine Fun

Two summers ago I thought it would be neat to go on the Last Chance Train Tour of Helena, Montana. The pictures of the brochure looked like it was a real historic train. Evidently, I wasn’t looking at that brochure all that closely because the train had rubber wheels–plus it was on a road. It was a tram that looked like a train–sort of. A few days before the tour, I did discover my stupidity but we went on the tour anyway since we’re not all that picky. Plus, my son was three- years-old at the time and my dad was with us. There’s no way we could have covered all that ground or learned as much by walking.

Although I mistook that tram for a train, I have been on historic train tours. There were tracks. The most spectacular of the these trips was The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train that goes between Durango and Silverton, Colorado. This train has made this particular journey through the mountain passes for more than 125 years. My trip was the one-way trip from Silverton back to Durango, but a two-way trip is probably more common. Silverton is worth poking around for a few hours. It’s a western town that looks western and less busy than Durango.

I’ve also taken the Boone & Scenic Railroad in Boone, Iowa. This train has been around since 1893. Along the way, the conductor points out landmarks and tells about the area history. At the time my son was a year and a half and we were visiting friends. This was a great way to kick back for a few hours without wondering when we’d get somewhere.

Last summer, I took my kids on a very sweet, short train ride. It wasn’t a train, really, but a trolley. It is historic and it runs on tracks. The Platte Valley Trolley is operated soley by volunteers. The first day we tried to take this trip, there wasn’t anyone to drive the trolley so we went back the next day. A huge REI store is right near the trolley station, so if you’re looking to pick up some travel or sports gear, stop in.