Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heaven Found on the Animas River

It was my first time to ride the Durango and Silverton railroad. Long before I met and married a train geek I had heard about this train ride. People who have no special passion for trains or even a passing interest have told me, "you have to ride that train out in Colorado." And ever since he rode it a few years ago for the first time himself, my husband has been talking about taking me out there to ride it.

On the way up there, I asked him which was his favorite train, the Cumbres and Toltec or the Durango and Silverton. Mitch struggled to commit, but couldn't. All he said "you'll just have to see for yourself."

For someone who suffers from vertigo, I knew this ride would be a challenge, but the previous two days had been spent riding the Cumbres and Toltec from Chama to Antonito and back. I had been so overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery, that it was downright silly to worry about dying. For those of you who have never experienced vertigo, it's really not too useful to try and explain. Let me just say this. The experience is like having your left and right brains at battle. On the intellectual side, you know you are not going to go flying off that cliff, but another part of your brain is busy exploring the idea, which sends another signal back to the rational side of the brain that says you are in danger, because loosy goosy side is contemplating jumping."

With that said, the ride along the Animas River was so stunning, that I was okay with falling off the cliff. And while I didn't lean out over the gorges, I enjoyed the ride immensely.

Durango is an adorable town, and because of the beautiful and highly populated depot and steam engines coming and going, has a Disneyesque feel to it. We got there late in the afternoon, and after exploring the depot area a little, we plunked ourselves down on the veranda of the restaurant next to the depot and ordered a brie and fruit plate for starters. The two of us were absolutely giddy, Mitch more so that I. He just kept wandering off in mid-sentence, which caused me to comment to the ticketing agent at the depot. "my husband couldn't be more distracted if he were in a roomful of scantily dressed women. She laughed knowingly. Trains just have this effect on certain people.

The ride up to Silverton follows the Animas River, which is sort of a land locked little place held back in time by the very mountains that once fueled its population. You can still see huge holes in the side of the surrounding mountains where the mining industry catapulted the area from wilderness to thriving mining town. We hear the snow skiing is fabulous. Clever residents have left the old mining town to its original state, including some dirt streets. The stagecoach that circles the old town is as at home as a camel might be in the Sudan, its just startling at first. Then you look down the street at the two steam trains waiting to depart and you instantly get caught up in the time warp.

Its all really quite dreamlike. The rocking motion of the train actually helps to sooth the torment of vertigo. Hot cider in your "all day fill up cup" keeps the slight chill of the high altitude at bay, and the glistening river winds like a bubbling, silvery ribbon back and forth beneath you for hours. Yes, today would be a good day to die if one had to, but better yet, have lunch in Silverton, partake in a little retail therapy, then board for the journey home. Then sink into the beckoning sheets of your luxurious bed at the General Palmer, after a sumptuous dinner of prime rib at a local restaurant.

Rocking, rocking the motion of the train stays with you much like that of a ship, and you are rocked to sleep like a baby in a cradle.--Ruth Mitchell

(c) 2009 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved

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