Monday, 20 September 2010

When in Durango, Ride the Train

In Europe, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is a popular saying. I can equally think of an appropriate saying for Durango. “When in Durango, ride the train”, which is just what I did while I was here.

I had heard of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad when I was planning my tour back in London and it was something I really wanted to do. I booked a seat in an open carriage with no windows, to take full advantage of the photo opportunities this train ride presented.

Construction work on the railroad started in the autumn of 1881 and the trains started running, unbelievably, all the way to Silverton which is about 45 miles, in July the following year. The railroad was originally built to transport gold and silver ore from the mountains around Silverton down to Durango, but the line soon attracted passengers who enjoyed the journey through this rugged terrain.

The tracks follow the route of the Animas River and at times the scenery is dramatic and picturesque. The track rises some 2800 feet / 850 meters along its length. I enjoyed the journey – in both directions – greatly. I met and sat next to George and Carolyn, a couple originally from Texas, but who now live in Pagosa Springs. They were very good company indeed for the 9 hour round trip.

The railroad uses 7 steam engines. At the moment two are being overhauled and the remaining 5 share the workload of hauling the trains from Durango to Silverton each day and back again. Some of these locomotives date back to the 1800’s and are in remarkable condition. I asked if they kept the fires in the boilers burning overnight and the answer was yes - they have an engine watchman working overnight to ensure the fires do not go out, because it takes 6 hours to restart them and to get the engines hot enough to make steam!

One of the locomotives leaving Durango....


















The train I was on, climbing along the edge of one of the canyons....



































There are tremendous views to be seen along the route....




























































Another of the sections where the track rises up a steep incline. The locomotive needs to work hard going up here....


















In places, there is not much clearance between the train cars and the rocks....


























In the open cars, people generally stand so they can look forward. At the end of a 7 hour journey, my legs were complaining about this!.....


















The best views of the train are when it is rounding a bend....


























What a great place to build a railroad....
















This is the town of Silverton in the San Juan mountains. It is not a big place, but it caters well for the train passengers....









































I saw this sign in a shop window which I am sure one of my readers will like....


















The train turns around while the passengers are on a two-hour break for lunch. I happened to notice the train reversing into the station area. The conductor uses his hat to signal to the train driver / engineer when to stop reversing....


























It was a busy day with so many passengers, they used two trains. Here are the two locomotives looking splendid and ready for their task. There is something very powerful about steam engines.....













































I returned early from lunch and sneaked a look at the engine, as seen by the driver.... this looks complicated!....


























One of the trains departing back towards Durango....

















One of the fine views on the way back down....


























The engines have to work much less hard on the way back down, but they maintain a full head of steam for the brakes....


















The tracks pass over the river about 3 times. This is one of the bridges....


















This is the engine “letting off steam”.... to release excess pressure....


























The sun shining through the smoke and steam....


















I had a great day on the train! I did learn that taking photos from a moving train is not easy. I took many and discarded most!

12 comments:

Geoff James said...

What a fabulous trip. I love trains of all kinds...

Thanks for the great photos.

Radar said...

I rode the Silverton to Durange journey once as a kid (probably 10 years-old) and have black and white photos of several of your pics. What a day! I still remember the trip to this day...and will return. Thanks for spurring the memories!

motoroz said...

Been to that area twice, but have not ridden the train. Looks like I need to.

Charlie6 said...

That's some gorgeous scenery you captured Gary....you didn't spot any service roads paralleling or given one access to some of those nice scenic spots, did you? : )

dom

Redleg'sRides

bobskoot said...

Gary:

We have a steam train here, the Royal Hudson which goes up to Squamish. All trains with "Royal" designation have previously carried Royalty.

We were very close to Durango but there was a heavy snow warning when were were there (November) and headed to Mesa Verde instead, then headed west to Blanding. Too bad you are missing Mesa Verde, it is a World Heritage UNESCO site where the Pueblos built towns inside caves. The dwellings are very well preserved.

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

bluekat said...

Trains, so fun and so nostalgic at the same time. My father-in-law would love the steam engines. Awesome photos of a very scenic ride!

Gary France said...

Geoff – You are very welcome. Have you planned a trip on a train yet with your new grandkids. Oh, sorry, it’s a bit soon yet I guess!

Radar – I am glad I made you think about the train again. It’s good that we can remember things like that from a long time ago.

Oz – Yep, I would say that you need to.....

Charlie6 – I did look for ways to get near the train tracks, but there were none that I could see, except nearer to Durango where the views are not as good. Hang on, there were one or two really rough tracks but I cannot recall where they were. I will get a map out and see if I can remember where – if I do find them, I will send an e-mail.

Bob – I did think about Mesa Verde, but it isn’t really my cup of tea! It is funny, I wouldn’t normally consider myself a steam train fan, but I did enjoy seeing them.

bluekat – I did enjoy the train, the company and the scenery – a pretty good day really!

Eve said...

These photos are fantastic Gary! Wow what a trip. This is one my husband would love to do for sure! So glad you are really enjoying this trip! What a once in a lifetime adventure!

FLHX_Dave said...

I missed this one! Stunning as usual. You really are livin' the dream.

Gary France said...

Eve - Even if I say so myself, they are quite good this time! Yes, once in a lifetime and I haven't even hit the National parks in Arizona, Utah and California yet!

Dave - I wake up each morning as if in a dream, wondering what I might see that day....

chessie said...

Hi Gary, it's been a strange week for me...so I haven't been getting around much! But thanks so much for leading me back! I am a train lover.

There is little about trains that won't fascinate me. I do get a kick out of the Chessie lines! Thank you!

I really like the Four Corners region of our country. I spent a bit of time there back in Sept. of '05. But I was spread pretty thin for time and money. What a great place! I'm so glad you're getting some magic moments there! (You're a lucky dog...oh yes...yes you are!)

You're living the life and I'm proud to "know" ya...perhaps there will be a day when a face 2 face will be in the works...

For now Gary, be well...and I'm going on to catch "The Rest of the Story" I've missed!

Gary France said...

Chessie – I am pleased you liked the trains! Yep, I realise how lucky I am! I am glad to e-know you too!