After turning around in Silverton, the train’s crew makes final preparations
to depart for Durango.
Enjoying history on the Durango-Silverton rails
—Lois and Bob Nethery
There are many wonders in this world to seek out and enjoy. We recently enjoyed one of them by taking the legendary narrow-gauge mountain railroad trip from Durango to Silverton. It is publicized as one of the “Top 10 Most Exciting Train Journeys in the World” by the Society of American Travel Writers and has been given a five-star award for Best Attraction by the National Association of Travel Journalists.
Bob and I are not too swayed by other people’s opinions, but we have to say that riding this railroad bed, pulled along in restored original railroad coaches by a restored original steam engine, looking down at the Animas River and canyon bed some four hundred feet below us in spots was a real trip! We rode in the club car and enjoyed the company of travelers seeking the same sense of taking part in history that we were.
As we travel, we pass sedimentary rocks that represent about five hundred million years of geologic time. Riding on bridge spans measuring sixty-four feet to over two hundred feet in length we cross the Animas River five times as it meanders back and forth across the flat valley floor below. We climb Hermosa Hill, a 2.5 percent grade, with cinders flying from the smokestacks as the train works at full throttle.
We watch the changing timberline as we ascend from the low-growing dwarf junipers, Gambel oaks with lovely bronze and reddish leaves, to 150-foot tall ponderosa pines. There are hillsides covered with rabbitbrush and sweetbriar roses—a mass of beautiful yellow blossoms—and Colorado’s state flower (blue columbine) and state tree (blue spruce) at the higher elevations. And of course, my favorite: quaking aspen, a glorious gold.
We wonder just how in the world more than hundred years ago men equipped with only pickaxes, shovels, and dynamite were able not only to carve this railroad bed out of the solid rock walls of the mountains but to build bridges stretching over the canyon floor and river below. To drill into the granite walls and set the black-powder shots, men had to be lowered on ropes from above, drill the holes, set the powder shot and then hope their fellow workers could haul them up the cliff before the powder exploded.
The Durango-to-Silverton railroad is the oldest continuously running remnant of the American westward expansion. It has experienced both financial and natural disasters in its lifetime. It was once considered “junk.” It has survived fires, crashes with trucks, derailments, snowdrifts and avalanches, mud slides, broken and kinked rails, washouts, rocks on the track, and destruction of the Durango Roundhouse.
The locomotives pulling the train are one of four classes of steam engines owned by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge, all bearing the same numbers and class designation they had when owned by the Denver and Rio Grande West. The passenger equipment has had long and varied service on the Rio Grande. Many coaches were rebuilt in 1923, and a few were idle for decades until rescued by the D&SNG. But all have been carefully restored and maintained by the new Durango Roundhouse and machine shop, a facility that ranks second to none.
Once you reach Silverton, nestled high in the heart of the San Juan Mountains at 9,318 feet, you detrain at 12th and Blair Streets. You are in a unique historic mining town, offering romantic Victorian and modern accommodations and dining. You can visit the infamous Blair Street Bordello District, discover gift shops and galleries with the works of local artists, join in community events rich in history and traditional American culture, or purchase a few choice rocks from a mother and her son hoping to intrigue you with their “finds.” Enjoy lunch and a tour and then listen for the four long and loud blasts of the engine whistle summoning everyone back to the train for the return trip to Durango. Or board the bus, which gives you a completely different view of the surrounding magnificent mountainous country, along with a running commentary by a most congenial driver.
We loved our journey. There is so much more to learn about this fascinating railroad—its history, its contribution to our own lives, and its place in the world of today—that we look forward to returning for another ride.
For more information about the remarkable ride from Durango to Silverton, call 970-247-2733, see www.durangotrain.com, or write to 479 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301.
Top marketing award goes to Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Bureau was recently named Marketer of the Year by the New Mexico chapter of the American Marketing Association.
"As a nonprofit, city-run tourism office, we had terrific marketing results in 2002, despite the struggles tourism and conventions faced across the country after the 9/11 attack," remarked Judi Snow, executive director for RRCVB.
Snow explained that RRCVB, with its marketing partner XtraMark, redefined the community's branding and aggressively marketed Rio Rancho to sports tournament directors, meeting planners, tour operators, and film, television, and video producers.
The Marketer of the Year Award is based on both creativity and results. The Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Bureau was recognized for their Web-site redesign that yielded a 400 percent increase in visitation and an 88-percent increase in total room nights, according to Snow.
The targeted campaign increased tourism mail inquiries nearly 30 percent, generated substantial bookings for tours and sports tournaments, produced numerous television series and movie shoots locally, and boosted a 12 percent increase in Lodger's Tax revenues, which RRCVB relies on solely for its operations.