‘All Aboard’ the call of the conductor mingles with the hissing steam from locomotive number 486 on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (DSNG RR) as we prepare to depart from Durango for an all day round trip to Silverton. We have chosen the open carriage, which affords a view seated sideways, but exposes us to soot, a small by-product of stream locomotives which we find coats our clothing, hair and skin, all part of the experience.
The railway was constructed by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in the 1880s to take supplies and people to the town of Silverton and bring back silver and other ores from the mines situated in around the town. Run as a tourist operation since the 1980’s the DSNG RR line is some 45.2 miles or 72.7 kilometers miles long. Each way takes some three and a half hours with maximum speed of 25 mph or 40 kmph, although often slower than this.
A final long blast on the whistle and we are off, slowly the puffing locomotive draws us out of Durango station, loud whistles continue as we cross each street in Durango and there are many of them. The carriage sways as we gather speed, a gentle rocking motion, this is not the welded track of our local suburban rail services. Quickly we are out of town
Our journey will follow the Animas river and we start by paralleling Route US550 with fields and farms on both sides, pleasant but not inspiring. We cross the US550 with the typical US rail road crossing bells ringing in our ears, I am sure you have heard them in the movies. We start to climb into the pine and aspen trees, looking eagerly for our first glimpse of wildlife, alas nothing stirs, but we are sure many eyes are upon us.
The railway line has a number of passing places which also serve as maintenance depots. After an hour we reach Rockwood which also has a wye which allows trains to reverse direction. We enter a cutting with shear rock on each side and on the other side, Wow!
The trackbed is cut into the cliffside, seemingly hanging by its nails or rails as we wend our way above the Animas River rushing over the rocks below. We had been promised a spectacular journey and we were not being disappointed. We snake our way northwards and can easily touch the rock in numerous rock cut outs and view the rushing river below.
The slow pace on this section means we do touch the rock wall on one side while,looking down into the canyon on the other.
Apart from the railroad track, no sign of human habitation exists. I love this aspect of rail travel, we see none of the usual rubbish that is associated with roadsides.
We descend to the Animas river and then spend the rest of the journey criss crossing from time to time giving people on both sides a wonderful view. We see little meadows in clearings, still carpeted in delicate wildflowers. Aspen trees interspersed with pines line the river as we progress northwards.
Our eyes are peeled for a bear sighting, but alas, while they most likely all looked at us as we went by, we didn’t see a single one. Chipmunks have to do for wildlife, much smaller than bears, but not as scary!
We arrive in Silverton, where we have heard everyone works in the restaurants when trains are in town. When they hear the first train’s whistle, they drop what they are doing and head for their lunchtime jobs. With up to 900 people for lunch on 3 trains daily, you can see this makes sense. The visitors that the DSNG RR brings to Silverton each day probably form the basis of the town’s economy.
The DSNG RR is also the largest employer in Durango with over 500 staff. The loss of the railways tourist pull would devastate both towns economies. We are told the the Maintenance of Way staff who are responsible for the track at times work 24 hours a day to keep the trains running.
Stream trains seem to bring out the best in people, we saw waving from people on foot, in cars, on bicycles and even skateboards. Anne (Vive la France – it’s the 14th of July today!!) loved this aspect of humanity.
The return journey is just as pleasurable, and in no time we are with civilisation again. This was a very worthwhile day and we hope you enjoy this and the related video.