Riding the Narrow Gauge Rails

DSNGR Train Billows of smoke, hissing steam and haunting echoes of the whistle signals the departure of each train out of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad station. Yearly, up to 200,000 passengers board the historic train for the 45-mile scenic journey through the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.

Founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879, Durango continues to  rely on the railroad as a major economic force. The spur to Silverton opened in 1882 carrying freight and passengers to the mining community, returning with over three hundred million dollars in precious metals. Today, after 126 years of continuous operation, tourists are the valuable cargo. Rail buffs from around the world make Durango a prime destination.

Coal-fired steam engines pull an assortment of vintage rolling stock from city to wilderness. Standard fare riders choose between open-air gondola cars or vintage coaches. A variety of premium classes adds more comfort and amenities for the 3½-hour, one-way journey. The dramatic scenery of rugged peaks, waterfalls, cliffs high above the Animas River and wildlife thrills all passengers. D&SNG Railroad by River

Legend holds that founder of the Denver & Rio Grande, General William Jackson Palmer, implemented narrow gauge because he wanted to prevent men and women from being able to sleep in the same bed on the train. The narrow cars only had room for single sleeper bunks on each side. With rails set 36 inches apart, compared to 56.5 for standard gauge, narrow gauge was less expensive to build and ideal for mountain terrain with sharper curves, steeper grades and narrow ledges.

Arrival in Silverton seems a step-back to the days of the Old West. The entire town is a designat06-Silverton Shoped National Historic Landmark reminiscent of a Western movie set; false-front emporiums, ornate Victorian hotels, wagons and stagecoaches traveling the dusty streets. Rail passengers have a two hour lay over, time for lunch and a walk around town. Some choose to overnight in Silverton- allowing time for jeep and mine tours or a high country hike. Reservations can also be made for a one-way rail trip with return by bus, a practical choice for younger children or those unable to devote an entire day to train travel averaging 18 miles-per-hour.

Advertisements