West of 105 Magazine - - Destinations -

Nes­tled down in the south­west cor­ner of Colorado, far from the madding crowd of Den­ver, Du­rango is a charm­ing and thought­fully cu­rated mix of old and new. Steam trains and sa­loon shootouts sit side-by-side with fan­tas­tic farm-to table din­ing op­tions, de­li­cious beer, creative cock­tails and out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in a land­scape so beau­ti­ful it will make you weep.


Du­rango is prob­a­bly the most “western” town in Colorado. It looks and feels like an old west town, you can wan­der the same streets where shootouts (quite pos­si­bly at high noon) lit­er­ally took place, and you can stay in ho­tels that look like they would have back in the early 1900s when they were built (less the TVs and air con­di­tion­ing, of course). And when it comes to size, Du­rango is a sort of Goldilocks town - not too big, not too small. In fact, Du­rango is just right.

Built by the Den­ver & Rio Grande Rail­way and of­fi­cially in­cor­po­rated in 1881 to serve as a sup­ply de­pot for the mil­lions of tons of sil­ver and gold ore that were mined from the San Juan Moun­tains, Du­rango re­mains con­nected to the ap­pro­pri­ately named Sil­ver­ton by the his­toric Du­rango & Sil­ver­ton Nar­row Gauge Rail­road - as it has for well over a cen­tury. These days, the vin­tage steam-pow­ered lo­co­mo­tive car­ries thou­sands of pas­sen­gers a year as it me­an­ders for two and a half hours through the stun­ning alpine land­scapes of the San Juan Na­tional For­est and along the An­i­mas River, gain­ing al­most 3,000 feet in el­e­va­tion, be­fore ar­riv­ing at its long-term ter­mi­nus. (Read on to find out about quaint lit­tle Sil­ver­ton and what to do there when you ar­rive.)

In ad­di­tion to its main jour­ney to Sil­ver­ton, the Du­rango & Sil­ver­ton Nar­row Gauge Rail­road has sev­eral themed jour­neys through­out the year in­clud­ing the Great Pump­kin Patch Ex­press, a Peanuts-themed ad­ven­ture for kids, and the An­nual Fall Pho­tog­ra­pher's Spe­cial, among oth­ers (visit du­ran­go­ for full de­tails).

When it comes to size, Du­rango is a sort of Goldilocks town - not too big, not too small. In fact, Du­rango is just right.

The train also seems to have a pe­cu­liar ef­fect on adults, mak­ing some of them giddy with ex­cite­ment, par­tic­u­larly when the trains whis­tle blast or it rounds a bend and the front be­comes vis­i­ble from the back.

Ac­claimed travel writer Paul Th­er­oux said in his book “The Great Rail­way Bazaar” that he had sel­dom heard a train go by and not wished he was on it. Well, the D&SNGRR may not com­pare to the jour­neys in his book in terms of length, but when it comes to his­tory and scenery, the lit­tle train that could, cer­tainly does - we think Th­er­oux would agree.


While the Nar­row Gauge is a Du­rango icon that brings peo­ple from across the state, coun­try and the world to the south­west cor­ner of Colorado, it doesn't de­fine the town. In fact, Du­rango has ef­fort­lessly blended the re­gion's western his­tory and beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral land­scape with a mod­ern and so­phis­ti­cated south­west vibe giv­ing rise to a unique place that gives all kinds of peo­ple all kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties to craft their own Du­rango ex­pe­ri­ence.

At the heart of Du­rango, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, is the Main Av­enue His­toric District, a 34-acre area that has been on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places since 1980. It is here where you can stand on a street cor­ner and see what makes Du­rango spe­cial and how past and present have come to­gether: Stand on the cor­ner of Main Av­enue and Col­lege Drive and you will see a his­toric ho­tel founded by a Civil War Gen­eral op­po­site a mo­bile creperie started by a clas­si­cal­ly­trained French chef.

For those who do travel here for a taste of the old west, the Di­a­mond Belle Sa­loon on Main Av­enue is a fun place for a quick bite or a drink thanks to the rag­time pi­ano player and the old west shootout reen­act­ments. And that pe­riod en­ter­tain­ment couldn't be in a more ap­pro­pri­ate place.

Open­ing just seven years af­ter the town it­self was founded, the Strater Ho­tel cost Cleve­land phar­ma­cist Henry Strater the princely sum of $70,000. The his­toric build­ing has un­der­gone sev­eral ren­o­va­tions of vary­ing de­grees but each one has re­mained true to the spirit of the old west. Wan­der around the self-styled liv­ing his­tory mu­seum to see the trin­kets and bits of old west mem­o­ra­bilia.

If you do de­cide to stay in one of the grand rooms you will be in good com­pany as the ho­tel has hosted some no­table names over the years in­clud­ing Paul New­man, Robert Red­ford, The Grate­ful Dead, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, and then-Se­na­tor John F. Kennedy when he was on the cam­paign trail in 1960.

One block south on Main Av­enue is the other grand prop­erty in town: the Gen­eral Palmer. The co-founder of the Du­rango and Sil­ver­ton Rail­way, Wil­liam Jack­son Palmer was a Brigadier Gen­eral in the Civil War (he was also awarded the Medal of Honor) as well as a noted in­dus­tri­al­ist and phi­lan­thropist. Rooms at the AAA Four-Di­a­mond Ho­tel in the heart of the town's his­toric district are per­haps a lit­tle more mod­ern than the Strater, but the ho­tel is no less grand. Rooms over­look­ing Main Av­enue of­fer a great op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple watch­ing.

At the end of the block is the nar­row gauge sta­tion and beyond that is the D&SNG Rail­road Mu­seum. Os­ten­si­bly a mu­seum about the nar­row gauge, the 12,000-square-foot homage to the re­gion's his­tory has an­tique trucks, trac­tors, a cov­ered wagon, an In­dian mo­tor­cy­cle, full-size steam lo­co­mo­tives, vin­tage coaches and an 800-square-foot model rail­road that de­picts the 1950s op­er­a­tions of the Den­ver & Rio Grande Western Rail­road. There is also an im­mi­grant car, so called be­cause they were de­signed to pro­vide in­ex­pen­sive trans­port for im­mi­grants (they were also some­times called colonist cars). Be sure to ask cu­ra­tor Jeff Elling­son about the im­mi­grant car and its spec­tral in­hab­i­tant, Kate. Bet­ter still, join him on the Haunted Du­rango Train Mu­seum Ex­pe­ri­ence. Fees ap­ply for guided tours but oth­er­wise en­trance to the mu­seum is free.

Photo: Cole Davis

Pho­tos (this page top): DATO; (this page cen­ter and bot­tom) Bran­don Hull / Gen­eral Palmer Ho­tel; (op­po­site page): Rob McGovern/ Pe­riod Comms

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