Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Durango’

Hiking Smelter Mountain

This was one of the most difficult hikes we’ve ever done.  Not because it was that far, or that high, but it was so steep and rocky.  It gained 1,000ft in one mile, all rocks and boulders. And in the full Colorado sun…. good thing we had lots of water with us.  It took us from the base of Smelter Mountain to the broadcast towers on the very top.

But we made it, and the effort was worth it, with spectacular views of Durango and the surrounding mountains.  The trip back down was anticlimactic, we just made sure of our foot placement and we got down no problems (well, maybe for 100 yards or so when we made a wrong turn).

Granted, we questioned our sanity several times on the way up (hey, we’re in our mid 70’s) but it was definitely worth the effort.

Hiking Engineer Mountain

Engineer Mountain is located about 50 miles north of Durango, is about 12,900ft high, and very popular with hikers.  There is a trail that leads through the forest to an open meadow right above the tree line, then to a viewpoint called Eagle Nest, and finally the mountain top itself.  Very few people attempt the top, as you pretty well need to go on all fours to get up the last steep part.

The parking lot is at 10,600 ft, the meadow about 2 1/2 miles in and about 11,400ft elevation, Eagles Nest another mile or so at about 11,800ft.  The peak is another 3/4 mile but goes up another 1,100ft!

It’s been almost 10 years since my quadruple bypass surgery.  We’ve hiked here before, and thought this would make a good test of my surgeons skills.  And, in fact, Romola and I had little trouble hiking — until we got within a half mile of the meadow.  It started to rain, and thunder was heard.  It never is a good idea to be on a mountain in thunderstorms so we headed back down.

So although we shorted our hike by a mile or so, it was very pleasant.  The wild flowers are blooming, with the columbine — Colorado’s state flower — well represented.

 

Vallecito Lake

At 7,800 feet above sea level, Vallecito Lake is the largest body of water at or above this elevation in Colorado.  And, at only 18 miles from Durango, it is a popular vacation spot.  It boasts several lodges and RV parks, as well as camping and just day activities.  And even better for us, it is only 15 miles from our campground…

Although there is a road all the way around, part of it is private property so we did have to back track a bit.  But we found a nice hiking trail at the south end, near the dam.

 

Durango & Silverton Railroad

While Romola and I have been in the Durango area several times before, we never took the famous train ride to Silverton.  This year we decided to take the train from Durango to Silverton and back.  Certainly one of the more scenic train rides in the country!

Durango was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1880. The railroad arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881 and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of the same year. By July of 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed and the train began hauling both passengers and freight.  It is a narrow gauge railroad, with the track being 3 ft. wide.

From the very beginning, the railroad was promoted as a scenic route for passenger service although the line was constructed primarily to haul mine ores, both gold and silver, from the San Juan Mountains. It is estimated over $300 million in precious metals has been transported over this route.

Eventually the ores played out and the mines greatly reduced.  It saw a resurgence during WW2 for mining uranium, but since WW2 the area, and railroad, had struggled.  Then Hollywood discovered the railroad and several films featured the train.   In the 1960’s the RR was registered as a Historical Site, and promoted for tourism.  It was purchased in the 1980’s and since then has seen restoration, additions, and is now a major tourist attraction.  The train now runs year round.

 

Ouray, Silverton, and Million $$ highway

Ouray is an old (1870’s) Colorado mining town turned tourist town. Often called America’s Switzerland, it is located high in the mountains. Although it still has an active mine, most city revenues come from tourists. There are many cute and interesting cafes, restaurants and hotels in town.  We’ve sampled a few….

Likewise, Silverton owes its origins to silver mining. And, like Ouray, it exists today mainly due to tourists. This is helped because it is the end of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, which still uses steam locomotives and old rolling stock.  The train ride, starting in Durango, is a magnificent scenic tour of the Colorado high mountains.  Silverton’s entire downtown is registered as a National Historic Landmark.

To get from Silverton to Ouray, you have to take the “Million Dollar Highway”, so named because legend has it that cost a million dollars per mile to build. Another legend says that over a million dollars of gold is in the fill dirt used to construct it. In any case, better not be afraid of heights, because the road is narrow,with steep dropoffs, and many sharp curves, But it is a beautiful drive.

To get to Silverton, you have to cross several passes

To get to Silverton, you have to cross several passes

A view descending into Silverton

A view descending into Silverton

Downtown Silverton

Downtown Silverton

Yep, curvy road and big dropoffs!

Yep, curvy road and big dropoffs!

Downtown Ouray

Downtown Ouray

Hotel in Ouray

Hotel in Ouray

Water fall from way up high

Water fall from way up high

Mountains surrounding Ouray

Mountains surrounding Ouray