The Wandering Frame Adventure Blog
Words cannot adequately describe the anticipation we had as we boarded our train on a perfectly crisp summer morning in Durango, Colorado. Our son's affection for "steamies" lingered past the toddler days where he constantly wrapped his tiny fingers around Thomas the Tank Engine or constructed wooden track that spanned the entire length of our living room. He wasn't the only one in our family whose fondness of steam engines brought us to the beginning of our adventure. We could hardly contain ourselves; our energy was much like the iron horse's boiler, full and ready for action. Our dream of riding a steam engine through the "Wild West" was about to come to fruition... only we didn't expect it to truly get wild.
Everything about the Durango-Silverton Railroad is authentic. From the costumes of portrayed passengers to the railroad crew, all involved were committed to bringing history to life. With a call to action, "All aboard!", and a final whoosh of steam, our journey began. The conductor was heard before he was seen. A request for tickets, followed by a quick click-click-click signified his approach. We presented our proof as our coach car swayed gently side to side. The sun drenched everything in its morning glow. The meadows lining the Animas River were ablaze with wildflowers that stretched to the foothills surrounding us. Conversations began to rise within the confines of the coach. Strangers became new friends, and travel stories were swapped as we began to ascend from the valley floor.
Not too far into our journey, we came to our first stop in the mountains. New passengers came aboard dressed in hiking gear, and fragrant with the aroma of triumph. They had just finished a fourteener- backpacker slang for mountains of at least 14,000 feet elevation. I couldn't help but feel a tinge of envy, as that goal still remains unchecked on my bucket list.
We linger well after the hikers board, and my curiosity is piqued by the urgent way a brakeman climbs along the edge of the engine, peering down as if to inspect the mechanical elements. He scurries back, returning to his rightful place inside. The train rolls back a minute, then abruptly jolts to a stop. Nothing is said, and we soon begin our journey further into the mountains.
As the broad ground surrounding the tracks narrowed, passengers began to squirm in their seats. We clung to the edge of the rocks while the river's rapids raged in the canyon perilously far below us. Everyone subconsciously leaned towards the mountain, as if our weight would prevent the train from tipping towards danger. All except a daring few who peered over the edge, myself included. We were of course perfectly safe, but the element of danger made our hearts race as we continued on.
We pulled up next to the remains of some wooden box cars and the now eye-level Animas River. It was quiet in this part of the forest, and the stop gave us a moment to drink in the serenity. Only this stop became an hour long wait, as we learn our train's air brakes had failed. Man, were we all glad to learn this on level ground! Our crew has determined the safest solution was to hitch up to another engine that was hauling its unsuspecting passengers up the mountain behind us. Watching the men and women of the Durango-Silverton Railroad problem solve for one hundred year old equipment made the time pass quickly, and most guests were so engrossed in the process that the delay brought few complaints. As our conductor boarded our car to apologize, he summarized it best, "You didn't purchase a ticket to Silverton, you paid for an experience". His words were the gospel.
Arriving in Silverton was like arriving on Ellis Island. We were strangers to this land; weary from our long journey yet hungry for possibilities, we stepped off the platform with enthusiasm. In a city whose population is a whopping 629 people, one wouldn't expect to find many options. However, with the railroad being a major source of revenue, there were many restaurants and stores that catered to the daily influx of guests. We decided that BBQ good enough for Guy Fieri was good enough for us. Thee Pits Again had limited seating and a line out the door, so we knew we had chosen the right place. Settling along the wall at a long table, there was room for more than our family had occupied. A couple from Texas gave us a big "howdy" and asked to join our company. We obliged and dug into the smokey, sticky ribs. I encourage everyone to invite a stranger to dine with them. In a world of isolation, it is wonderfully refreshing to connect with people while breaking bread.
We boarded the Durango-bound train with a mix of thoughts over what the next leg of our journey would hold. Although we had already taken the same route, traveling the opposite direction opened our eyes to even more wonders. The San Juan National Forest could possibly be my favorite chunk of ground in all of Colorado. It is that splendid. I chose to ride in the open car for most of the trip back, which proved to be another great decision. The conductor stood beside me and shared treasured stories and hidden facts that only enhanced the magnificence of the mountains. It was evident that he too loved his job and those mountains. It seems that many people have stories like his. They've left the "normal" world because they got an elevation high that they craved again. The more I visit them, the more I agree with Muir; those "mountains are calling, and I must go".
Born with a severe case of wanderlust, I'm always searching for new adventures and sharing those stories here.