Golden San Juans

While the area around Vail is quite pretty, it doesn’t equal the spectacle of southwest Colorado’s San Juan range, especially when the aspens peak in late September.

For my “bucket list train trip”, I originally had thought of the exquisite Rocky Mountaineer train that travels from Vancouver to Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff.  Randy was even game to come along with me for a week.  But I was still a bit tentative in planning these bucket list trips– how soon would the cancer progress to where I could no longer travel?  If I had some kind of emergency, how fast could I get to a local E/R? 

Ultimately, for this bucket list trip, I chickened out on the Canadian train and decided to go with a more modest train I had always wanted to ride but had never yet done so– the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.   Randy and Karen had never been on the train, so they decided to join me for a few days in southwest Colorado.  Karen found us some wonderful airBnB condos in Durango and Telluride, so our plan was now set for the last week of September!

The Railroad offers a plethora of train car and seating options for getting to Silverton and back.  As the photo enthusiast, I decided on the glass-top Silver Vista car for our trip as the seats were padded and slightly reclined, and they sat 3 across so we’d have a whole row to ourselves.  The only downside was that the sides of the car would still be open this final week of September.  Windows would not be installed until next week!

Our 8:00am departure out of Durango was colddddd!!! But we still had friendly locals waving as the train went by.  Seems like it’s the fun thing to do in town!

My front-row seat in the Silver Vista car– looking out at one of the conductors standing on the small platform at the front of the car.

The top of the car was glass, but the side panels were open-air allowing for easy photography.

Our car was near the back of the train.  Perfect for when the train takes a big curve along the side of a cliff, and you can photograph it!  Notice the steam coming out of the engine– they said it takes something like 400 gallons of water to make this 90 mile trip.  The train actually stops a few times to refill its water tank!

The train crosses the Animas river a number of times along its route.  Just love the baby blue/green water of this river!

As we climbed higher in elevation, it was sure nice to have the blankets that the Railroad provided!

Nice to have my furry flapper hat from Karen too!

The aspens were just stunning.  A storm rolled into southwest Colorado 2 days after our train trip, so we were lucky to ride the train on one of the last warm sunshiney days!

Departing our odd-looking glass-topped Silver Vista car in Silverton–

The trains roll up one of the side streets so that passengers can depart right into the center of town.

We ate lunch at this little diner, Natalia’s 1912 Restaurant, right across from the train.  Surprisingly, it was reasonably priced and quite tasty!

For the return to Durango, the Railroad offers a variety of options.  You can take a bus coach back along Highway 550 (aka the “Million Dollar Highway”), or you can return on the train.  We originally opted for the train, but once we had taken it in the morning, realized that one way would have been sufficient.  Although it’s a beautiful ride, it’s also very slow– max speed is only 10mph!

So, after these gorgeous early afternoon views, the rest of the return trip was slow and boring.  We finally rolled back into Durango after dark after 6:00pm and were ready for a nice roaring fire in the fireplace back at the condo!

The next day, Randy drove Karen and I up Highway 550 to Ouray for lunch and to take some aspen photos.  A picture-perfect day for a picture-perfect “Switzerland of America” town!

Wished we could have stayed longer and tracked down Box Canyon Mark and Bobbie, but it was not to be for this quick visit. 

We sure enjoyed some marvelous views along the Million Dollar Highway, though!

No guard rails on this highway, so take those turns nice and slow! 

We found a perfect backdrop for a few family photos of Randy and me, and Randy and Karen–

We spent the last half of the week over in the skiing town of Telluride.  I love the waterfall and vibrant blue pond that are at the base of the canyon to the east of town.  Just spectacular!

Back down in the town center, there’s another way to get around town that’s free and fun– the skiing gondola!

The first gondola takes you up out of the main town…

to another gondola which takes you over to the mountaintop skiing village, and beautiful views.

Then, it’s back the way we came!  Back to the first gondola to return to the main town and its spectacular aspen trees!

It turned snowy and cold while we were here, so we didn’t have much of a chance to get up into the mountains.  But I did take Randy for a quick drive on my favorite backroad, Last Dollar Road, in the hills above the airport.  Quite a gorgeous place!

Some of the landowners have unusual tastes– like this guy who planted an old gas pump on his land!

All in all, a great week in the San Juans!

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