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Feature Attractions - Durango & Silverton Railroad -
Durango, Colorado

by Carl Burnham

With your ticket, you have the choice of an inside vintage coach or first class parlor car (both heated in winter), or an open-air gondola car. Dress warmly, as the weather changes at the different elevations (it changed from an 80 degree day in Durango, to the 50s at higher elevations for our trip in August).

The open-air car is recommended if you want to take photographs or are a kid at heart). From this vantage point, you can later see on the trip up close how man laid track 120 years ago through the mountains using sheer muscle and dynamite. Our trip was not full, due to the rainy weather, so I was able to move freely about the cars. Due to flying cinders, smoke and the sun's rays, wear dark clothes, and bring some sunglasses.

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As you follow the route along the Animas River, you are able to see mountain peaks, old water tanks, a 1905 hydroelectric plant still providing power to Silverton, pass over bridges, see old boilers and mining gear, mine shafts, and lots of beautiful scenery.

As you venure along the route you see old railcars by the side of the tracks among the Ponderosa pines. There are mile markers along the tracks that indicate the number of miles West of Denver that were originally assigned by the railroad.

As the train passes over High Bridge and the Animas River, it will pause to let off some steam (known as "blow down"), as impurities are extracted from the boilers, sometimes creating a rainbow effect. For each round-trip, a train will utilize ten thousand gallons of water and six tons of coal.

Less than two miles from here the track will elevate to where the river is 400 feet below, with a dramatic horse shoe curve. Along this section, the train will slow to 5 mph. The builders of the rail line used narrow gauge rails so that the railroad can take the sharp curves up in the mountains, with the rail 20 1/2 inches narrower than a standard gauge rail.

As the train gets closer to Durango, the cliffs change to a red color, with more greenery as it enters the Animas Valley. The whistle of our train as it enters town has everyone waving to an old friend as it passes, as the train comes ambling back to the train station, home again from another run.

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We would like to thank the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum for assistance with our feature. For more information, email, call 1-888-TRAIN-07, or visit them here.

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