Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Nate and Karen were in town for Memorial Day Weekend, so we decided to do something fun. We headed to Durango and rode the old narrow-gauge train from there to Silverton and back. We were supposed to leave Durango Sunday morning at 8:45 am, but the train was delayed by half an hour so they could get the right cars in the right order. The ride took four hours one-way—half an hour longer than usual—because there was a “slow order” in place. This wasn’t explained, but I suspect it was so the train didn’t cause sparks that start fires. All this meant that our scheduled layover in Silverton was reduced to little more than an hour, but that was long enough for us to grab a quick (and surprisingly-tasty burger) and wander about town. 

I bought the cheapest tickets—coach fare in an open car about halfway down the train. Our bench seats faced sideways—on the west side going north and on the east side going south (yes, they turned the entire train around). The train was crowded. I bought some snacks in the morning along with a souvenir cup full of Diet Coke that included free refills and had to stand in line in the concessions car every time. We spent much of the ride standing up so we could see the front and back of the train and more of the view.

The tracks ran along the Animas River. Those on the river side of the train had excellent views of the water. Those on the other side saw mostly hillside—sometimes only inches from the side of the car. Fortunately, the tracks crossed the river four times, so both sides had good views part of the time—and remember that we were on the other side for half the ride so we got to see all the views.

Here are the best of my photos, in pretty much (but probably not exact) order in which I took them.

At one of the stops for water, two ravens flew down into a tree across the river from our car. I knew they were looking for food, so I gave them some. I tossed a couple cookies onto a rock. Both of the birds flew down to grab them but chickened out at the last minute because they were so close to the car. I looked back after we got moving again and saw them fly down and grab them.

We stopped twice on each trip to refill the steam engine with water, but it wasn’t from one of these old tanks.

Approaching Silverton

Silverton. The tracks are laid right along one of the streets.

High Noon Hamburgers, where we got lunch, along with some local color.

On the afternoon trip, we got a great view of one of the most famous stretches of track in the world. The train runs on a narrow ledge 400 feet above the Animas. The afternoon light and shadows were awful for taking photos.

The first and last 10 miles or so of the 90-mile round trip passes through Durango and ranch land along the Animas.

I took this selfie on the return trip, then put my $20 sunglasses in my shirt pocket. Somewhere along the way, I leaned over the car railing and the glasses fell out. I was paranoid that my cell phone would go the same way. It didn’t.

Eye protection was necessary because we were bombarded the entire trip by soot from the engine. We all had black freckles by the end of the day.

Riding eight hours in a train is surprisingly tiring—especially when you’re standing and bracing against the constant swaying most of the way. But the scenery was stunning and we had a great time. If you have a chance to take the trip, I highly recommend it. We’ll probably do it again sometime.

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