Colorado Trip – Day 3 – Train Trip Back – Evening

We boarded the train for the trip back with our little white paper sack full of fudge samples (samples graciously cut by a friendly gal who teased us about how much of a taste we were actually going to get of each one….)

We pulled out of the station – on our way ‘home’ now…




Our trip back was not as chock full of non-stop narration as the trip up – apparently, the reason you are informed to buy fudge is the sugar/caffeine helps to keep you awake on the train ride home.  Our Historic Guide for the trip home was Otto Mears – orphan, immigrant, entrepreneur, toll road and railroad baron extraordinaire – while I immensely enjoyed our trip home, it was less about our guide standing at the front of the train filling your brain with more facts than you may ever recall and more about one-on-one visits with passengers, as he walked up and down the aisle to visit, enquire, enlighten – – And he admitted to being pleased so many passengers hadn’t nodded off to a nap yet, when we were half-way back to Durango…  🙂


Otto Mears
Otto Mears

Because we sat on the same side of the train as we did coming up, there were some different views to snap pics of, in between visiting with Otto about his character, his real life and the fact that Otto’s original home is for sale, right now, in Silverton, but probably out of my price range, since the previous owner restored it and built an observatory in the back which he allows local students to tour/use…. 🙂  Also, interesting fact – the man who plays Otto Mears 100 years later, has a life filled with places lived, careers followed that eerily follow the steps of the orignial Otto Mears – and, when asked to participate in a Heritage walk of the Hillside Cemetery, celebrating Otto Mears, held on the anniversary of Otto Mears signing up for military duty nearly eight decades later, our guide was glad to say yes – he thought it a fitting way to spend his birthday…

The serendipity of the Universe never fails to amaze me  – –

On to the pictures – first up, the rock slide as result of ages of avalanches/mud slides that holds the rusted remains of one red and one orange car that failed to keep to the corner while traversing the Million Dollar Highway outside of Silverton – because I didn’t zoom in like I should have, I put yellow arrows in for you to see – the actual roadway they went off of is located far, far up in the right hand corner – or maybe, I didn’t even capture the actual roadway – – 🙂


Next up, a calmer view of the Animas and a beautiful, historic bridge –




And last, but by no means least, a picture that doesn’t do justice to Santa’s reindeer that live year round here, because the Durango-Silverton runs the Polar Express during the holiday season, don’t ya know – – 🙂   The winter runs do not go all the way to Silverton, but still, you get to see the route in all it’s white splendor!

The picture I took of the reindeer zoomed in,  was blurred as we were picking up speed – so look at the upper right corner of this one for a glimpse of Santa’s Helpers!



Back in Durango

Somewhere along the trip home, Mom and I decided we were so well fed today, maybe all we needed was a small bite before retiring for the day – – the Diamond Belle Saloon has a wonderful Spinach-Artichoke dip, accompanied by a  local band that has been playing country and blues there for over 26 years – so we returned to the Diamond Belle, ate, drank and let the music of the greats wash over us – – –

Returning to our comfy room, we double-checked next day’s itinerary and planned on what time to leave for the place I’ve spent nearly 30 years trying to get to  –

Mesa Verde – –

Colorado Trip – Day 3 – Silverton Layover

We pulled into Silverton as the afternoon storms rolled into the valley – I don’t have as many pictures for you, because I got caught up in the experience and failed to snap pics like I should – –

What I can tell you is – if I ever move again, it will be to Silverton – I fell in love.   With a year round population of 200, it’s my kind of town – I observed two earth homes while touring and want to be buried in the historic and beautiful Hillside Cemetery – but I’m getting ahead of myself….


About a month before this day, I sat in front of my computer, trying to find out what I could about Silverton – I discovered the historic Hillside Cemetery and found out it was a nice little hike from the train depot – uncertain if Mom and I could make the hike, at high altitude, in the time allotted for layover from the train, I tried to find out if there was a taxi or guide service available – an email to Freda, who wrote a book on the cemetery, netted me the link to Mountainside Concierge.

A submitted request at website, reply email and 3 phone calls later, our Angel of Tourist Mercy, Karen, met us at the train depot, with a wonderful lunch of Southwestern Wraps and raspberry tea, to go, from The Pickle Barrel restaurant (which is owned and operated by year-round local folks!)  We climbed into her comfy ride and headed up to Hillside Cemetery, munching along on our fantabulous lunch.

Karen had offered to hike/guide us to her favorites in the cemetery, but alas, rain and lightening kept us to the car –  but here’s what I learned while visiting with Karen while we drove the cemetery loop, up to the Christ of the Mines Shrine (which I had missed the turn-off for yesterday during our trip south to Durango)  and a guided tour of  Silverton:

  • Karen gets a lot of business in the winter time – from tourists who don’t want to drive the mountain roads and from attendees to the Avalanche Training schools held there each year.  Do you know how many levels of Avalanche training there are?  All the way from, “Survive One” to “How to read the layers and prevent one”
  • Summer, not as busy, so if you’re wanting to do more than frequent the gift shops near the depot during your layover, good chance she’ll have an open spot to take care of you!
  • The scar on the mountainside that looks like Bugs Bunny from a distance is where avalanches are triggered/occur
  • Rhubarb abounds in Silverton and if you purchase a home there, you probably don’t need to bring transplants from your old home – it will be there, even growing between the cracks in your sidewalk…
  • There is an active community of organic gardeners, who trade plants and tips for hoop houses/green houses and willingly trade plants with newcomers who lost theirs
  • Their growing season is about a month behind where I live
  • She knows the owners of the earth homes I gleefully saw and when I get back to the area, she’ll introduce me to them
  • There is a Russian princess buried at Hillside Cemetery
  • If you want to be buried in Hillside, you have to be a resident for 20 years or more – maybe 10, if I were to move into the area and contribute enough to be granted a grandfathered clause – 🙂  Challenge Accepted!
  • If you’re willing to hike/travel up, you can go sledding in August at a high mountain lake near Silverton

Here’s a picture of the flora in front of the museum, see the beautiful Rhubarb?

Check out the gorgeous rhubarb, upper center, in July - no less!
Check out the gorgeous rhubarb, upper center, in July – no less!

Click Christ of the Mines shrine to learn about the awesome history of the area and this shrine.


And after a wonderful hour with Karen, we returned to the station to get some fudge from the local shop (we got taster samples of 10 different kinds of fudge – I’m not a fudge person, but they were all delicious!)  A few pics of the train and we departed, with a new figure from history as our tour guide for the trip home, Otto Mears,

” – a famous Colorado railroad builder and entrepreneur who played a major role in the early development of southwestern Colorado. Mears was known as the “Pathfinder of the San Juans” because of his road and railroad building projects through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in the late 19th Century. He built hundreds of miles of toll roads in the rough terrain of the young state of Colorado, notably the Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass, connecting Silverton to Ouray.”  – Compliments of the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad site

Fast Facts About Your Railway Pass

Yes, yes, I said next post was Silverton, but here’s what your railway pass price purchases, that you may not know or think about:

  • Personnel and rail cars that travel the track before the first train, everyday, to check for obstacles and fire dangers along the track
  • A helicopter equipped with a bucket hovers over every train that makes the trip during the day – to quickly dip up water from the Animas to put out any fires the authentic steam locomotive cinders may ignite
  • The engineering/upkeep of specially manufactured stacks that control flow and spray mist to allow the authentic steam locomotive to run through lovely mountain areas you’d hate to see destroyed by fire without causing such a danger in drought conditions
  • The firefighting equipment loaded on every train to deal with the unexpected
  • The rail car with personnel that follows every train up and keeps an eye out for any wayward sparks.

How do I know all this?  Because the Durango Silverton faced a hard decision in 2002 – the fire that year was not caused by them, but they realized that if they wished to continue operations using historic steam locomotives, without causing danger to the land they loved, more fire safety preventions needed to be put in place.

I also know because while looking out the window along the way, I spotted a small flame lick up next to a rock and pretty Indian Paintbrush plant – I called out to our guide and was ridiculed and then assured by my fellow tourists that I had just seen a ‘controlled burn’ – regardless, word was passed back to our Angel Firefighter crew following behind the train and the small flame was quickly extinguished.  The guide and conductor thanked me for speaking up, which reinforced my belief –

“Folks may think you a fool, but if you think it ought to be said, speak up!”


Colorado Trip – Day 3 – Train – Durango to Silverton

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum

Sunday, July 20th – we come to the event the whole rest of the trip was planned around.

Before arriving to board the train, we decided a full breakfast was in order – since we left the hotel before the included breakfast was served, we ended up at Denny’s.  Not very original, but the other local restaurants I had found during research weren’t open yet.

Here’s the view from the Denny’s in Durango parking lot.

From the Durango Denny's parking lot
From the Durango Denny’s parking lot

We arrived at the depot in good time, tummies full enough to carry us until lunchtime in Silverton.  I wandered around the depot buildings & yard- disappointed to find that I had crammed our itinerary too full of already-paid-for-tours the next day to take advantage of the Railroad Yard/Museum tour offered every morning and afternoon – a tour which could have answered all the questions I had that wouldn’t be left unanswered for long if my Grandpa Denney or Dad were around – –

This portion of the trip a rather bittersweet one for both Mom and I – – her dad worked in many a rail yard/depot over his long working career (remind me sometime to tell you about the motorcycle, the spider, the battery stack the size of a bed box spring set…) and Dad, who knew enough about so many things that rarely did we ever travel anywhere and need to purchase a tour guide’s services or a guide book to answer our questions.

And so, we “All AaaaBoardddd” ed with excitement  for the journey ahead and a touch of mourning over those who would not be making the trip with us….


As this was a trip of a lifetime and since I picked up some website work before we left, we splurged and did the Historic Narrative car for the train trip – On our way up, our tour guide was Ann Eliza Pinkerton, who, with her husband Judge Harvey Pinkerton and their children, homesteaded in the Animas Valley in 1875. They sold beef, potatoes, butter and other food supplies to the miners up in Silverton.   Her role was played by her real-life descendent who works for the local museum and heritage society.

Anna Eliza Pinkerton - Homesteader - 1875
Anna Eliza Pinkerton – Homesteader – 1875

As we left the station, and worked our way through Durango, Anna Eliza filled us in on the history of Durango and the local area.  We learned about the mining, railroad, both then and now, as well as interesting tidbits such as:

Did you know the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, where they jump off the cliff, was filmed just north of Durango?   The actual drop isn’t the same as the one portrayed in the movie – the long cliff-face fall was cut-in from shots at a location in California – though the jump off and river entrance were shot locally –  still, every year, some high school senior tries to make the much less dramatic  jump, even though local laws made it illegal to do so quite a few years ago.

The videos/guide books available for sale were so reasonably priced, I purchased both and declined to take notes or try to remember everything – instead, I sat back, enjoyed the view while Anna’s knowledgeable and gentle voice carried me away to a different time and place – I did manage to return to the present to snap some pictures here and there – mostly of the Animas River, which we rarely lost sight of during the journey:








At Horseshoe Bend, I was able to take a picture of the front of the train, from the window of the car we rode in near the back:



And pretty side views along the way:




Next post – our layover in Silverton….

Colorado Trip – Saturday Evening

I’m only two days into the trip and I’m descending into old habits – fully experience the journey – don’t interrupt the experience by taking pictures – – 🙂  But will share with you the awesome evening in Durango, even though I only have two pictures – – second one will most likely be deemed by most as  inappropriate for little one’s eyes – that’s all the warning you get – –


After 2 days of traveling that resulted in our only meals being crackers, cheese, lunch meat, trail mix, granola bars, etc.,  from our well-stocked cooler in the car or a fast sandwich from the drive-through on our way out to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mom and I are way ahead on our budgeted ‘per diem’ for food,  and decide, near Silverton, that all we want is a thick, juicy steak and big baked potato dripping in butter and sour cream for supper before we head over to the melodrama.

We arrive and check in at the Iron Horse Inn – which was a great place to stay.

Iron Horse Inn - Durango, Colorado
Iron Horse Inn – Durango, Colorado

Next, we change our itinerary from a highly rated, locally owned Mexican food establishment (yes, I researched restaurants, too, for our trip itinerary)  to the Palace Restaurant which had steak on their menu and also, was handily located  right next to the Durango Narrow-Gauge Railway Depot, meaning, I wouldn’t need to study the map routes I printed off for our trip later that night, to make sure I understand what route to drive tomorrow morning!

Great food service so fast and efficient at the Palace, we end up with some time to kill before the Durango Melodrama show at the Henry Strater Theatre.  We mosey half a block past the theatre, which was located only 1 1/2 blocks away from the restaurant and belly up to the bar at the Diamond Belle Saloon, because the bar was the only place with seating available.  Music from  rag-time piano player that’s featured six nights a week during the summer, rings out through the restaurant and we dig out our cash for his tip jar.

I’m enjoying my Durango Wheat locally brewed beer, listening to the music, observing the plush red velvet curtains with gold trim, the elegant gold ceiling, the old time saloon girl outfits displayed over the massive bar-back, when my gaze rotates around and lo and behold,  when they say ‘historic’ saloon, they mean, it – although unobtrusively placed, the requisite painting every true saloon must have is quietly displayed over the top of the entrance doorway – –

Ah, when the natural female form was adored instead of called 'overweight'
Ah, for the days when the mature female form was adored instead of labeled ‘obese’

Because I’m considered a prude by some, I had to snap a pic with my phone and excitedly text to those detractors that yes, I’m in a saloon, drinking a beer, looking at a picture of a ‘nekked womin’  – – – only replies I got were-

“Looks like a good time”


“Who Is This?  Who has Tamrah’s phone?!?”


The ragtime piano player dutifully played our Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer requests, even though they probably don’t stretch his massive talents at all AND he’s probably already been asked to play them at least a thousand times this tourist season.  The graciousness of our entertainer was only matched by the courtesy and efficiency of the bartenders and saloon girls – how is it that so many people think it okay to drop please, thank you and common courtesy when they travel?   I listened to some of the requests from other patrons and it’s pretty quick to figure out who the locals are and who the visitors are – – do you think the rude ones behave that way at home?

Our bartender was friendly and smiling, but I noticed the smile was not reaching all the way to his eyes – – Because of the prima donna ways of some of the other patrons, I folded a larger than normal percentage sized tip into bow-ties for him and when he came back down to our end of the bar, his eyes lit up and he declared he could get rid of his black tie and wear these instead.  He chatted with us to find out what we were doing while in town, and made some suggestions for other great places to see/visit.

We interrupt this broadcast for this Public Service Announcement

Many of those who work to make it possible for you to visit an area and engage in tourism have to work 2 or more jobs in order to afford to live where they work.   You can bring joy to these dedicated men and women simply by:

  • Not being an ass
  • Using please, thank you and waiting your turn
  • Tipping extra when it’s obvious the jack-arses at the table next to you are perfectly content to be served like kings and tip like paupers.

This message brought to you by one who served the tourist trade for 10 years before realizing she’d best leave before she engaged in action that would result in a lawsuit and/or assault charges.

We regretfully left the Diamond Belle and made our way to the theatre for the Melodrama – which was AWESOME!  So many wonderfully talented folks, who, during their intro number, confirmed my beliefs by singing about why they live where they do and how many jobs they have to work to be able to go hiking, biking, exploring the beauty around them once the work day is through – – See?  I’m not exaggerating – this same rule applies to those who wait on you in the ski towns, too, so be kind there as well.

Satiated by good food, drink and entertainment, we returned to our room to get a good night’s rest before heading out in the morning to board the Historic Narrative car of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

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