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What To Do In Durango

By Julie Hatfield

Knowing how attached an 8-year-old is to his electronic games these days, I told Sam that he could bring his iPad along on our morning train ride up into the San Juan mountains. The Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad is, after all, not exactly a high-speed fast-charged rush. It was built in 1881 to take workers and supplies up to the silver and gold mining town of Silverton, and is a coal-fired steam engine train that takes the same amount of time - 3 ½ hours - to get up to the top of the mountains from Durango as it did in the 19th Century. It's possible, I figured, to hear the dreaded "B" word ("I'm bored") from Sam after a couple of hours of this.

But, as proof of how much fun the ride was, Sam never went into his backpack to retrieve the iPad. There was too much to see on the ride, and he was mesmerized.

The train - whistling along the way to announce its presence to the black bears, deer, jackrabbits and the few people who live in this protected national forest - steams through some of the prettiest countryside in Colorado. Following the Animas River, it goes through pine forests, agricultural land, fields with wild horses, spectacular waterfalls, and breathtaking cliff edges. We also spotted some of the daredevil rafters taking on the Class IV and V waters of the Upper Animas River, and Sam watched these most carefully, knowing he was going to be on the Lower Animas in the afternoon doing his own whitewater rafting.

We were on a day package, one of many choices given by the Durango & Silverton Railroad, that combined a train ride in the morning and a whitewater rafting trip in the afternoon back in Durango. While you can take the railroad up and back in a day, most people feel one slow ride is enough, and opt for an afternoon of coming down the mountain in a 45-minute bus ride, or a van owned by one of the rafting companies, in our case, Mountain Waters.

Some of the packages offered include a morning four-wheel drive in the backcountry, followed by an afternoon train trip; or a morning train followed by an afternoon of horseback riding through the San Juan mountains, soaring on a zipline, fishing, hiking or camping. The interesting thing about these activities is that you can only get to some of these places by the train, as there are no roads anywhere near the track; the bus and van leave Silverton on a highway on the other side of the mountain.

Sam and I had just time for lunch in Silverton before the van picked us up and drove us straight to Mountain Waters' headquarters, where we took another quick ride to the put-in place for the rafts, which is right in town. As expected, the Mountain Waters staff is young, athletic, and full of rafting stories and rafting wit; our raft guide, Sean Franklin, kept us entertained all afternoon with his "What is the difference between a raft guy and a........?" while guiding us through enough dips and falls and soaking wet splashes along the Lower Animas to keep us screaming as we splashed in the Class III part of the river. If a perfect summer day of adventure can be planned, this "Rail 'n Raft adventure is as good as it gets.

If You Go:

  • If you're looking for what to do in Durango and want more information on the Durango & Silverton Railroad trip, visit www.durangotrain.com, or call 1-888-TRAIN-07.

  • For more information on Mountain Waters half-day rafting trip, visit www.durangorafting.com, or call 1-970-259-4191, fax 1-970-892-8293.

  • There are a number of good hotels in Durango. For more information on the modern Doubletree Hotel on the river, call 1-970-259-6500. The historic 1898 Victorian General Palmer Hotel is located at 567 Main Avenue. For more information, visit www.generalpalmer.com, or call 1-800-523-3358. Both hotels are within walking distance of the train station.

  • Steamworks Brewery, at 801 East 2nd Avenue, is a perfect family restaurant, very casual; drop your peanut shells on the floor as you nibble, or draw a chalk picture, also on the floor, and enjoy a craft beer and the Cajun Boil, consisting of shrimp, Alaska King Crab, Andouille sausage, corn on the cob, potatoes, with barbeque sauce, cocktail sauce, and melted butter. For more information, visit www.steamworksbrewery.com.

Julie Hatfield is an award-winning travel writer who was fashion editor of The Boston Globe for 22 years and continues to write travel stories and a philanthropy column for The Globe. She lives in Duxbury, Massachusetts, with her husband, and is the mother of three, stepmother of two, and grandmother of two.

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