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Feature Attractions - Durango & Silverton Railroad
Durango, Colorado

by Carl Burnham
Click here to hear a sample of the steam engine (Real Audio or Windows Media required). When you first hear the whistle of one of the steam trains, as the sound echos across the valley, it conjures up a mixture of emotions. It beckons you to see the iron horse as it ambles into the town that was created by the railroads in 1879, when the West was still a frontier. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway began operation here in 1882, laying the tracks that would first carry gold and silver ore from the area mines in the mountains and the "boom town" of Silverton to the smelters in Durango. Soon after, it started carrying passengers. Now, over 120 years later, the tradition continues in a grand way, with the railroad carrying over 200,000 passengers a year.

The #482 locomotive being readied by the conductor for another run, which dates to the early 1920s. The historic railroad provides a variety of schedules for trips and special events for the journey between Durango and Silverton throughout the year, operating as many as four trains a day between each town. Trips are available between Durango and Silverton from May through October, and from Durango to Cascade Canyon from November to April. For our trip, we chose to take the bus/train combo trip, riding a charter bus to Silverton from Durango over Molas Pass. This would allow us to take in historic ghost town tours with our feature attraction, Mild To Wild Tours, with a return 45-mile, 3 1/2 hour afternoon trip aboard the train. This is highly recomended, as it provides you with a better appreciation of the history of the area than just taking an all day train ride.

On the charter bus, Jim, our driver, who works for the railroad, acted as a personal tour guide, telling us alot about Durango, the Animas Valley, area mountain peaks, and the National Forest (the largest in Colorado). He provided us with details about the devastating Missionary Ridge fire that took place here in 2002 started by the fumes of a car parked on grass, which came close to Durango. It was the largest fire ever in Southwest Colorado, burning over 70,000 acres. Over fifty local homes were burned, but firefighters were able to save many more, and fought the fire bravely for several months. He quipped that the fire was so bad that a bear checked into a hotel in town (the maid was quite surprised!). The fire was finally put out by the early winter snowfall. Following the fires, the railroad purchased diesel locomotives, which can be used for firefighting purposes and emergencies. In the morning sun as we departed the area near Durango, there was little evidence that there had been a fire, as trees had started growing back along the ridge. As the bus rode up through Molas Pass towards Silverton, we passed through many stands of Ponderosa pines, Douglas fir, and Aspen trees. The leaves changing colors make this area even more scenic in the fall. This same route used to take 2-3 days when it was a stage coach path, until made into a highway.
The historic Durango train depot. For the train ride, be sure to make advance reservations, as some trips fill up quickly. With your ticket, you will have access to later tour the train yards to see the train engines up close, the museum, and check out the gift shops. The museum contains many historic items, including the oldest locomotive that ran on the line, and was built in 1887. Specialty coach charter trips can be scheduled for reunions, weddings, and other group events. There are special events held during the year, including a Railfest, a Balloon Rally, a Step Back in Time Festival, moonlight evening trips, and special appearances by Thomas the Tank Engine for the kids. The train also provides access for hikers to reach remote areas, and to the private resort, Tall Timbers Resort, only accessed via helicopter or the railroad.
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