We’ve waited 17 years to ride this train with our kids! in 1998 when Dan and I came through the area, we said, “someday, we will come back here and take our (hoped for-prayed for) kids on this train. And today is the day!
Dan, Nate and Eliza at 7:30 in the morning, ready for our 8 a.m. departure. (They want you there early!) If you go, buy tickets way in advance for Gondola Car 1, seats 1 – 20. You get the best view of the gorge and river on the 45 mile ride to Silverton, less coal dust on your face, and you get the sun in the afternoon on the way back. We were in seats 30-34, so we spent a lot of time turned around looking over the other people’s shoulders for views of the river, but we didn’t care! People were really nice to each other and the views of the canyon were gorgeous no matter where you looked. Everyone in our car stood up for most of the day, too, leaning way out to take pictures of friends and the view.
The railroad track was originally called the Silverton Branch and was built by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway from 1881-1882. The mineral riches in Silverton (get the name?!) had been their goal since 1876 and men were fighting over who would get there first. Deep in the San Juan mountains, riding this train is the popular way to see this view. We saw two kayakers and have a friend who ran it years ago, but it’s even so remote that it’s hard to hike into, so we felt lucky to finally get to see it. Another friend of mine told me later that he’d never seen the water this high here, ever. (Thank you Colorado for the wettest May on record.)
The coal-powered train winds and climbs for 3 1/2 hours, with beautiful views the whole way, before you get off in the dumpy little town of Silverton. It hasn’t had anything good happen to it since we were there in 1998, which is sad after all the growth we saw on the front range of Colorado. The couple who own the railroad now are buying the oldest hotel in town to restore it and hopefully have it become a destination resort, but for now the town is full of tourist souvenir shops, a few places to eat, and tons of boarded up old buildings. The railroad runs over 200,000 people through Silverton each year and we did our best to leave some cash for the locals so they can survive the winter.
Mt. Garfield on the trip back to Durango. Half our car took naps after lunch – it was warm, they had full bellies, and the train really does lull you by rocking. I took the cutest picture of my family sleeping but they’d be unhappy with me if I posted it here, darn!
The railroad track was originally built as 35 gauge,which is really narrow, but now it’s 85 gauge. We saw pieces of the track lying off to the side and when we were on the edge of the cliff like this, I was grateful for the heavier track!
And last but not least, here’s the corny picture taken by the professional photographer on the train that we paid $35 for! It would have been nice if she would have told me that I had coal dust all over my face, but I still love it because it represents 17 years of dreaming of taking this trip with our kids and it was a perfect day, to be remembered long into our future.