“First, there’s the San Juan Mountains in which Durango stands 6,520 feet above sea level. Then, there’s the Animas River meandering in and around the downtown streets.”
Purgatory, River of Lost Souls, Silverton – Wild West Mining Heritage
Life. Happiness. Passion. Meaning.
See. Hear. Smell
Okay. Here’s your check list.
You better hop to it, because time is running out and your vacation will end before you see and do everything on your checklist.
Forest, River, Mother Nature.
Life feels good!
First, there’s the San Juan Mountains in which Durango stands 6,520 feet above sea level.
Then, there’s the Animas River meandering in and around the downtown streets.
And, of course there is a buzz of activity.
If it’s summer …
Then it’s a gaggle of runners, cyclists, rock climbers, kayakers and fly-fishers.
If it’s winter
Then it’s skiers and snowboarders in lift lines on Durango Mountain against a backdrop of heavy snowy laden trees and mountains peaks.
Sometime in 2002 or 2003 we initiated coverage of Durango.
Because Harry Dent wrote if you’re still freaked out after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City – or for that matter any metropolitan area — consider Durango.
Trade in an Urban Upscale, high density lifestyle, for a more pristine, sparsely populated community.
Could you find work? Interested in financial planning he asked?
There’s an Edward Jones office already there.
Durango, he wrote, is an example of where Baby Boomers had been discovering “Big Bucks in the Boondocks”.
Not necessarily a welcoming passage for our self-reliant High Country Eagle, David Petersen, who no doubt was sending his manuscript “On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life” off to his publisher around the time.
When we first visited Durango – over a summer a few years before Petersen published his book – we had already driven a long distance in the dry heat from Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
We drove out of Montezuma County in the Southwest corner of Colorado and headed for the general vicinities of La Plata, San Juan and Archueleta counties along the southern Colorado border.
Stopping briefly at the Colorado Welcome Center in the Cortez City Park, we realized that you’re at another major crossroad – 555 takes you past the Crow Canyon Archeological Center to Dove Creek and the Dolores River Overlook.
West is the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.
South is where we’ve been on 160.
Northeast on 145 takes us to Telluride through the San Juan National Forest.
East takes us past Mesa Verde National Park, on 160 towards Durango.
We decide to stick to U.S. 160 headed east.
To be honest, I didn’t even consider a time change for Mesa Verde and Durango.
This has been one trip with a lot of driving.
All I had thought about behind the wheel is the next stop at Mesa.
And then a 45 minute drive to Durango, our “Basecamp,” for three nights and two days before pressing on to Denver.
When we drove up the the entrance of the state park, the park ranger told us the park was closing in 25 minutes for the day due to the hour time change between Arizona and Colorado.
We pressed on, though.
What else could we do?
Driving a long and winding road we squeezed in a whirlwind tour of the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings.
The ranger said to visit the museum and the Spruce House since we didn’t need tickets or a guide.
Not until we hiked down to the Spruce House, did I begin to appreciate the severely shortened stopover.
We climbed down into a Kiva.
And then I forgot about our time constraint.
It was like I was transported into a different world, a different time.
I could begin to use my imagination while driving around the scenic loop.
There we saw rock evidence of earlier communities out in the open on the top of the mesa.
They once flourished.
But, it wasn’t anything that I had expected.
It’s as if as warring tribes or other threats challenged their existence.
Instead of choosing another mountain top, they moved to the cliffs for protection.
At least we had enough time to take in cliff dwellings that appeared in the shadows across the canyons from a turnout.
We stopped and photographed like so many other tourists before and after us — until the rain moved in.
The centuries of inhabiting this area begins to sink in.
Especially when you stand here next to our SUV with digital cameras in hand and gaze out across the canyon to the complex of early Anasazi cliff homes.
It takes an unhurried appreciation for what you’re seeing to hit you.
They were built, what, some 1400 years before the first European explorers laid eyes on the territory.
Or even stepped on North American shores!
Anasazi people — Ancestral Pueblo-ans — lived for roughly 700 years in Mesa Verde, having migrated from the Four Corners region.
Half expecting we’d be kicked out, we spent about an hour exploring, even as exhibits and tours barred any admissions.
How much of this can anyone take?
Suffering from fanny fatigue, we climbed back in our SUV for the last 45 minute drive –arriving in downtown Durango at dusk.
From my journal –
Durango sits on the edge of a great desert mesa and enjoys warm breezes and cool lush mountain forests.
With a population that grew from 12,500 to almost 14,000 people before 2008 Durango grew at significant rate.
The United States Census Bureau reported a population of 16,887 in the 2010 census.
There’s no missing the San Juan Mountains in Durango.
Durango sits in their shadows.
Wikipedia says the mountains are …
geographically younger than other Colorado mountain ranges – they haven’t weathered as much, so they appear more jagged and captivating, at an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level.
As we drive through these mountain roads you can’t help but notice the brown, red, yellow tracings from mine shafts long ago abandoned.
But, I was done with driving by the time we found our hotel.
And finding the Best Western Rio Grand took awhile, especially when the address listed looked to be at the wrong end of a one-way street, a problem we eventually solved.
While eating an early dinner at Farquarhts it’s easy to see how the downtown gets most of its charm from the classic 19th century hotels and its Victorian architecture, saloons and hitching posts.
So much of the West owes its expansion to the railroad, and I guess Durango is no exception.
I love the story our waiter told about Durango being founded when another community across the Animus River turned down the offer to bring the railroad that would link the mines to Denver.
It’s kind of an accidental incident that turns into a major opportunity – or blunder depending upon your point of view.
Either way, while Durango was founded by the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad in 1879, it wasn’t until August 5, 1881 that the railroad came to the mining and smelting center
Those were heady day in this area — the heydays of the gold and silver booms.
I love the names.
“River of Lost Souls”,
They all conjure up images of a gold rush town, you know?
(32) Plan extended seasonal vacations during summer and winter months. Group destination locations together in regional trips to explore what several bucket list towns have to offer in the general vicinity – with only a week or two vacation time to spend, we recommend organizing your itinerary by travel regions.
An excerpt from Book Three in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams.