Durango, which grew because of mining, ranching and the railroad, is located in Colorado’s four corners area — about a hour’s drive from where Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. Imagine walking where Ancient Puebloans (formally known by the Navajo name, Anasazi) trod, or peering down hundreds of feet as the train chugs along a track clinging to a canyon wall. This old rough-and-tumble town, which has approximately 18,000 residents and is home to Fort Lewis College, is a prime destination for travelers exploring this corner of Colorado.
Today will be a full, so start early. If you’re not staying at a historic properties, such as the Leland House and Rochester Hotel (where breakfast is included), try Oscar’s Cafe for a Southwest Scramble or Oscar’s Ole’ omelet.
Ride a Train Where Cars Can’t Go
The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad takes you on a narrow train track that hugs mountainsides at times, and travels through a wilderness not reachable by car. Pulled by a steam locomotive it travels 3 1/2 hours through the unspoiled San Juan National Forest to Silverton. On a nice day, riding in an open car is great fun for all ages.
During the Silverton layover, explore the old mining town and pop into the San Juan County Historical Society mining museum. Have lunch at Handlebar’s Restaurant and Saloon, Grumpy’s, or the Pickle Barrel. Hop back on the train for the ride back to Durango along its original route.
If you don’t want to take the train both ways, Mild and Wild in Durango offers a tour that takes you by bus to Silverton and transfers you to modified jeeps for a mountain tour past old gold digs, waterfalls and breathtaking scenery. Guides provide a running regional commentary and the harsh lives miners lived. They bring you to Silverton for lunch and put you on the train back to Durango.
Wear dark clothes (to mask the train soot), sun screen and appropriate layers for the season. Take a camera, water and snacks.
Wander Along Durango’s Main Street
You’ll be back in Durango in time to wander Main Street and have dinner. Try Eolus Bar and Dining on Main Street between 9th and 10th. Leave room for desert, and try Sutcliffe Rose if they have it. (Sutcliffe, one of Colorado’s best wineries, is located in this corner of the state.)
Spend the day at Mesa Verde National Park viewing the ruins of cliff dwellings made by Ancestral Puebloans some 700 years ago. Mesa Verde is one of the most unique of our national parks and was established in 1906 to protect 1000s of archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings. It’s about 90 minutes from Durango, 45 minutes of which are up a winding road from the park entrance to the Chapin Mesa, where many of the readily accessible ruins and a museum are located. (Or stay overnight at the Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde.)
First, stop at the visitor center to purchase tickets to Cliff Palace, Long House or Balcony House. Get oriented and ask about hiking trails to dwellings and petroglyphs. Take a ranger led tour. Or, explore on your own; see dwellings and kivas and dispel the myth that they mysteriously vanished. (There is no cell coverage here.)
Backcountry Ranger-Led Tours
Mesa Verde is crowded in the summer but there are ranger-led tours into the back-country walking in the footsteps of the Ancients and viewing sights only a relative few have seen. Book these as far in advance as possible. One of the most memorable hikes we have ever taken was an eight mile trek to Spring House. Most hikes leave early in the morning, so if you get a spot, we suggest staying at Far View Lodge. Rooms are small and walls are thin, but it’s the only lodge in the park.
Find Quality Native American Art & Crafts
If you’re headed back to Durango and interested in contemporary Native American jewelry, rugs and pottery, stop in at Toh Atin Gallery on 9th. The quality and selection is exceptional.
Steamworks Brewing Company is a good bet for dinner. They’re open late and have a varied menu of burgers, fish, steaks and pizza.