Scenic USA - Colorado

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

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Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad - Colorado

Photo by Bob Goldman
Inset photos by Chris Muller

     Not as well known as the Rocky Mountain name, but to Coloradans the San Juan Mountains are among the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad - Colorado most rugged and largest mountain range in the state. Here in southwestern Colorado, the San Juans are highly mineralized, making up what is called the Colorado Mineral Belt. Responsible for a large part of Colorado history, gold and silver were the key elements for spawning the major mining towns which remain today. The cities of Creede, Lake City, Durango, Ouray, and Telluride all supported lucrative mining operations. One of the largest obstacles to mining, as you may have already guessed, was this mountainous terrain. Back in the day, the burden fell on the mule train, packing out tons of ore to the smelters of Silverton.
     When the Denver & Rio Grande Railway arrived in Durango in 1881, tracks into Silverton soon followed. Considered some of the most the rugged terrain in the San Juans, the construction effort was truly amazingly. Although plans called to move passengers on this scenic route, the majority of their business was hauling gold and silver ore. It's been estimated that most of the ore, valued over 300 million dollars during its prime years, was transported over this route.
     Today, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Line continues to follow the historic route through Locomative 315 - Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado the scenic San Juan Mountains. Powered by coal-fired, steam locomotives, the train traces the Animas River from Durango to Silverton for 45 miles during the summer season. In winter, the route is shortened to the Cascade Station. The route along the Animas River has always been regarded as spectacular, and remains one of the most scenic railroad journeys in America. The San Juan Mountains here are divided into seven wilderness areas, where 314 snow-capped peaks range between 13,000 and 13,999 feet. While fourteen peaks are over 14,000 feet, nearly half of Colorado's 13ers are what make this range so spectacular. And it's this scenic route through the mountains and deep canyons that passengers will always remember, a railway excursion that's operated continuously for over 120 years.

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