The most famed Indian dwelling in the United States is Mesa Verde. The settlement dates back close to 1,000 years ago. The inhabitants, known as Ancestral Pueblans, abandoned it around 1300 AD. So these cliff dwellings are about the same age as Europe's great medieval castles and cathedrals. Why did they leave? Probably due to depletion of resources such as soil, water, and wild game. But we don't know for certain.
The Pueblo and Hopi Indians of Colorado and New Mexico are the direct descendants of these ancient people. Some of their legends and traditions evidently date from the time of these cliff dwellings.
Several tours are offered--the Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Long House, and a coach tour of the top of the canyon.
Durango's most celebrated attraction, and a boon to the local economy, is the railroad to nearby Silverton. Using old-fashioned steam locomotives, this train offers a variety of different cars for the traveler.
Durango began as a railroad in 1880. This line was used in a number of movies, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's still used for local transportation.
I sat in the Prospector Car. Each car has its own guide and narrator, who also serves drinks. Mine was a Tennessee gentleman named Bob. The ride is a bit rough, but spectacular.
The museum has a lot of old nicely restored steam engines and wagons (see picure intro)
The wagons and engines are all accessible, excepted for the presidential wagon.
An instructive video shows how the old steam engines have been restored to funcion again and how Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad started as a tourist attraction.
This is a great place for steam engine fanatics!
Durango is the city directly to the east of Mesa Verde National Park, which my wife will tell you is her favorite of the National Parks. It is located in Southwestern Colorado, and is fairly isolated from the rest of the state by the Rocky Mountains. Durango is located about 45 miles from the Park HQ, and about 35 miles from the Park Entrance, so I am sure it is your most logical choice for dining and accommodation when the park is closed.
I would recommend learning more about Mesa Verde National Park on that page directly, or by clicking on this link.
Mesa Verde is definitely one of the National Parks where you can spend a whole day or multiple days, depending on what you want to do, so do not short change yourself or tries to pack too much into a single day and try driving elsewhere. When we were leaving the park around 4pm after getting there very early in the morning, we were surprised to see people just coming into the park. I would feel bad if I missed too much of this park because I did not allocate enough time.
Ghost town tours that leave from Durango, starts off with a breath taking drive to Silverton, Colorado on the Million Dollar Skyway. The impressive Molas Pass where the San Juan Mountains can be seen in all directions is one of the many highlights to your drive. Pass through the old Victorian mining town of Silverton, which was established in the early 1870's. Then venture off of the paved roads on to old mining trails heading northeast out of Silverton. Spectacular tumbling waterfalls, snow fed rivers, cool mountain air greet you as you climb in elevation. The jeep trails winds through the old mining towns of Howardsville, Middleton and Eureka as you climb to 11,200 feet. You will stop at Animas Forks to explore one of the most preserved mining ghost towns in Colorado with many buildings that are still standing surrounded by the high mountain peaks of the San Juan Mountains and rolling alpine meadows. Ponder what an adventure it would have been living in the high country in the late 1800's. Kids have been known to find "gold" and in the early season they can even get into a snowball fight! Travel higher into the alpine tundra where you'll view the summer wild flowers shining in a rainbow of colors, especially in mid to late summer. Marmots, white-tailed deer, and elk herds may be seen as hawks and eagles keep an eye on you from above. On your drive back down to Durango, you will wonder at how early settlers ever managed to survive.
Discover the beauty of the San Juan Mountains on a scenic La Plata Canyon jeep trail tour just departing from Durango. After a short drive through historic Durango you will start to climb from 6500 feet in elevation to almost 13,000 feet. You'll see cascading waterfalls, wildflowers in all shades of colors and if your lucky some high mountain wildlife along the way. Your tour takes you on a primitive road all the way to Kennebec Pass a notch where you are "on top of the world" and have a panoramic view of the four corners Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado!
The popular Lower Animas River is great for families and groups with a large variety of age and adventure levels. It is a great sampler trip for ages 4 to 84! For those seeking a more adventurous trip, inflatable kayaks are a great option, because the smaller the boat the bigger the waves! No experience is necessary! Full day, half-day, and sampler economy trips generally run from May through September.
Telluride’s San Miguel River is the perfect step up in adventure for those ages 10 years old and up. This fast flowing river with its continuous class II "splashes" and intermittent class III "wet and fun" rapids is an action packed one to three day voyage. This narrow, twisting unspoiled wilderness river canyon provides the visually striking scenery of deep green pine filled Colorado mountainside with contrasting red rock walls. Combined your rafting trip with a drive along the Million Dollar Skyway from Durango, CO. After your trip stop in the quaint mountain town of Telluride, and a soak the healing waters of Ouray for an unforgettable Colorado mountain vacation.
The intermediate Upper Box of the Piedra River for ages 12 and up! Located about an hour from Durango, and 10 minutes from Pagosa Springs, CO. The River starts as a small creek with many technical Class II splashes (meaning lots of maneuvering around rocks). As your journey continues, the river is joined by tributaries (creeks), which adds significant water volume to the river. As a pool drop river, the Piedra contains fast paced fun, but is also marked by small pools of calmer water allowing you to take in the exquisite jagged rock walls, pristine alpine forest, and wildlife! The Upper Box of the Piedra treats you to the big splashes of wet and fun Class III rapids and the big drops of two stair-step Class IV- rapids
The Lower Box of the Piedra takes those ages 16 & up for a trip on the wild side! Paddle through 1000 ft canyons, alpine rain forests, and heart pounding whitewater. The Lower Box of the Piedra River is also a pool drop highlighted by rapids that drop 6ft, then 5 ft, then 4 ft, with a calm section of water after the rapid. Relax and soak in the riverside hot springs. The Upper and Lower Boxes of the Piedra River are great single day trips, but the two-day overnight trip combining both boxes cannot be matched in beauty, excitement and adventure!
The Wild Upper Animas River provides some of the WILDEST whitewater in the U.S.! Continuous class III wet and fun rapids with intermittent class IV big drop and class V violent rapids make the Upper Animas one of the toughest commercially run trips in the U.S. at high water (early-mid June). Everyone on an Upper Animas trip must be a strong swimmer and able to paddle while the boat bounces, spins and submerges. Fourteen thousand-foot peaks rise from the banks of the river as the river drops at a rate of 85 feet per mile. The stunning scenery and adrenaline pumping whitewater make for an unforgettable one, two, or three day adventure for ages 16 & up.
10 Tips on Carefully Choosing your River Outfitter
River rafting is one of the most popular soft and hard adventures of the new millennium. Whether you are going on a river trip for the first time with your family or you are an experienced river adrenaline “junkie”, it is important to carefully investigate the quality of the outfitter supplying and guiding your trip. Determine which outfitter can best fill your needs and provide a safe and enjoyable trip. Consider the following factors in choosing your outfitter:
1. Does the outfitter stress safety?
2. Does the outfitter offer a variety of trips so they can fit an adventure to the group, or do they fit one experience to all groups?
3. What is the outfitter's reputation? Check with America Outdoors (423-558-3595), the national professional rafting association.
4. Ask local lodging properties about the service reputation of the outfitter.
5. Check the outfitter's safety record with the river's regulating agency. The U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management managing the river area can provide the information.
6. How many years has the company been in operation?
7. Are their cancellation and rescheduling policies clear and in writing?
8. What equipment do they provide? Helmets should always be provided on class IV and V Rivers.
9. Do not shop on price alone; low price often means underpaid guides with minimal experience and lower quality equipment.
10. Ask about minimum age limits. Do the limits change depending on water flow? Quality outfitters change the age requirements or river segments depending on the water level and speed of the flow.
While not inexpensive this ride on a famous steam operated railroad is worth it. The trip will take a full day, but you will have a choice of times. The trail stops in Silverton, and allows for a lunch break.
This is the same train which Hollywood uses in all those cowboy movies--the bad guys stop the train and rob it, etc.
Seating is outdoor in an open car, or indoor with windows.
Just behind the engine is kind of sooty, you might think about this car.
Bring a jacket as even if it is hot in Durango you will be in much higher altitude and it will be cool.
The best thing is Durango is the train ride from Durango, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado. It is called the Narrow Gauge Railroad. It is a 45 mile train ride up into the mountains. It was made in 1881-1882.
Some of the most famous parts to keep yours eyes open for are:
Mile post 451.5 The journey begins at elevation 6,520 feet above sea level.
MP 458.5 On the west side of the valley is a waterfall that is fed by Falls Creek
MP 467 The train crosses under US Highway 550 overpass. Many want to take pictures of this.
MP 469.5 Get the camera ready!! You cross the High Line. Picture below!!
MP 470 Mine Shaft dating from 1882 is visible here.
MP 471.23 The High Bridge. Watch for the rainbow. While the locomotive is over the river, they open the blowdown valve to clear sediment that accumlates on the bottom of the boiler. The white mist shoots from the sides and you will see the rainbow if its sunny out!!
MP 483.3 Needleton flag stop. They let off a lot of hikers here. Look out the left side and you will see a makeshift grave.
MP 484.4 & 485.5 Where they stop to use the water tank.
MP 487.1 - 488 The steepest grade on the entire line - up to 4 %! After filling the tender with water at Needleton, the fireman must work hard to get the boiler to full steaming temperature for this stretch!!
MP 496.7 The Silverton Depot!!
Being Steam Buffs we had to ride the train. It's a great ride. The scenery is terrific and you expect Butch & Sundance to appear at any minute. There is time for a leasurely lunch in Silverton and a walk around this old town - its just like a cowboy set
The shopping is NOT touristy like i expected .It's not filled with souvenior shops. They have some high qualility intresting shops . From jewerly to western wear to art work . It's a great way to spend an afternoon.