Durango’s best known attraction was also its raison d’être. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881 and immediately began construction of a narrow gauge line to connect with the mining town of Silverton. It wasn’t long before the new line was delivering supplies and fortune-seekers to the scattered mines of the San Juan and returning with ore rich in silver, gold and other minerals. Now, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG) not only connects Durango with the mountain village of Silverton, it connects Durango with its past, a past intimately associated with the individualism, and bustling optimism of the Old West.
Railroad enthusiasts come from all over the world to ride the historic coal-fired, steam-powered train through the backcountry wilderness of the San Juan Mountains. After the snow melts, Durango residents throw open their doors, welcome the warmth of spring, and celebrate the wailing steam whistle of D&SNG as it carries its load of tourists, hikers, and adventurers up the Animas Valley with its magnificent views of canyons and peaks, and brings them back to enjoy the many amenities of Old Town Durango.
In town, the D&SNG Museum offers a glimpse of the past glory of the railroads. In the past few years, the D&SNG has also added a variety of coaches, giving passengers a choice between many coach configurations from Standard seating to the Silver Vista glass-roofed observation car and private cars outfitted in Victorian splendor. You can now even experience a day in the life of a steam engineer and fireman in the cab of a locomotive or ride the rails with a Maintenance of Way crew member in a motorized track car.
Special trains have become more numerous every year; the 2011 schedule includes a Native American Heritage Train, Independence Day Express, the annual Fall Photo Train and a Day out with Thomas for the kids. The most popular train with families has become the Polar Express trains which take children and parents (all encouraged to dress in jammies) to Santa’s village. The D&SNG also has a distinguished past as a Hollywood movie star having played a prominent part in such movies as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Around the World in 80 Days.
If, however, you can’t ride the train during your visit to Durango, you can at least settle into the patio of the Palace Restaurant and watch the trains come and go. No visit to the Four Corners is complete without at least paying tribute to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.