Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Colorado's Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs about 45 miles through the Animas River Valley between Durango (seen below), where the main station is located, and Silverton, where you disembark and have a couple of hours to catch lunch and visit the many touristy stores. You then have the option of riding the train back to Durango (making it an all day trip) or taking a bus back. The buses are also run by the train company. If the trains out of Durango are sold out (as they often are), you may be able to take the bus up to Silverton and ride the train back.

The town of Durango was established by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879, and in 1882 the train line to Silverton was completed to haul ore, primarily gold and silver from the San Juan mountains. Over $300 million in precious metals rode this route. In 1981, the Narrow Gauge Railroad Company bought this route with all of its rolling stock, station, roundhouse. etc. from the D&RGW.

The tracks run along the western boundary of the Weminuche Wilderness (part of the San Juan National Forest and its 1,800,000+ acres) along the Animas River and provide access for backpackers and fishermen into and out of the wilderness at the Needleton and Elk Park stops.

Below are several photos of the trains and the scenery.

Here the train travels on a "shelf" which was blasted out of the rock of the mountain, about 100 feet above the Animas River which it follows for its entire 45 mile length. The last half of that distance is through the 1.8 million plus acre San Juan National Forest.

Below are photos of a coach car interior and one of the outdoor observation cars.

All their locomotives are coal-fired steam-operated locomotives, manufactured by American Locomotive Works in 1923 or by Baldwin Locomotive Works in either 1902 or 1925. The locomotives built in 1902 were originally standard gauge but in 1930 were rebuilt as narrow gauge. For more information about this railroad, I suggest you read the aptly titled book Smoke and Cinders which may be purchased through the railroad. 

This neat bridge is over the Animas River and can only be reached by train or by a five mile backpack down the Purgatory Trail. Six more miles up the Animas River gets you to Needle Creek, then six miles up (4000 foot elevation gain) takes you to the Chicago Basin. An alternative is to take the train to Needleton, from which you then hike up the Needle Creek Trail. I've camped here twice and enjoyed viewing and photographing the trains as they cross the creek here. During drought times when the forest is susceptible to fire, a chase train follows each locomotive to extinguish any fires started by embers from the steam engine's smokestack, and the crew on that detail explained to us what they were doing.

The trains passed right behind our lodging -- the aptly named Iron Horse Inn in Durango.

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