Southern Colorado Road Trip: May 2007

Southern Colorado Road Trip
By Michael Handler
Event City Creative

I’ve been coming up to Pagosa and Durango from Santa Fe for about two years now, mostly in the winter to enjoy the great skiing. I’ve always enjoyed the hospitality of the people and beauty and recreation the mountains afford, but never took the time to really explore the area. Even though I planned to do just that, the first thing I discovered is that one cannot do everything in just a few days, even in the relative quiet of spring time. What the spring does offer, on the other hand, are long, warm days, clear skies, startling views of high snowy peaks and signs of new life everywhere as the trees start to bud out.

The green valleys and meadows are alive with swift-running creeks, low-flying birds and deer and elk occasionally making their presence known. And no crowds. No kids. No long lines. It’s easy to book rooms, make reservations at the major attractions and enjoy the slow pace of life before the craziness of summer. My journey included stays at B and B’s, historic hotels and lodges, with train rides, hot springs and nature-watching filling my days. The drive to Durango from Santa Fe starts in Bernaillo up Highway 550 –not the most exciting drive–but once over the Colorado state line, the trees are taller and the grass is greener. Then you start to see the mountains: the San Juans and Rockies. I thought I was driving to the Alps when I saw these views, with the sharp peaks covered in pure white snow; more snow than I saw all year in Santa Fe. The old train and mining town of Durango was “discovered” by General William Palmer as a regional hub for his newly established Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in the early 1880s. It maintains much of the historic look and feel of a great Western town, with Victorian stone buildings and store-fronts, saloons, faded advertisements for tonics and bicycles on the sides of the brick buildings, and the occasional old-timely train rumbling its way out of town. The hotel of the same name, the Palmer, oozes with old world Victorian charm, and is almost a living museum of the times. My first night’s stay was four miles out of town and a world away at the Inn at Lightner Creek. It’s located in a narrow but picturesque valley, with the creek itself on the far side of a sloping meadow across from the inn. Birds naturally abound here, and the new owners (Scott and Ellen Martin) have made a point of attracting even more, to the Inn and surrounding area. They have also completely remodeled the kitchen and public areas of the old original house. As Scott explains, “it used to have this grandmotherly look, until we blew it up and started over.” The result blends modern with Victorian, with a comfortable and inviting feel. Kitchens in most B and B’s are tucked away and usually off limits, but here the area is a focus for activities and interaction— just like home! My favorite part of the day was out in the hot tub on the last afternoon, with the soothing sounds of Lightner Creek the singing birds creating restful background music. The management of the Lightner Creek Inn has a very hands-off attitude with the guests–except during breakfast. My Friday morning breakfast included “Eye Opener” eggs, which adds an extra pinch of cayenne to your morning. And although I was the only guest in the dining room, I wasn’t alone. The owners have strategically placed outdoor bird feeders right by the windows, so the little sparrows, finches and hummingbirds were just a couple of feet from my nose. On the ground, a few of this spring’s wild turkeys were digging through the mulch in the newly-planted flowerbeds. Dinner that night was at my favorite local spot–one I was lucky enough to find over a year ago on a ski trip to Purgatory. Ken’s and Sue’s has been a fixture in two
Durango locations now for many years, and they have never lost their charm or great personal service. The inventive but not-too-complicated food always satisfies, and the wine list fits my budget and palate. I like the fact they have a generous number of wines by the glass. That leads me to add that a single person never feels alone at Ken and Sue’s…the most fun is eating right at the bar and talking to the other guests and bartenders just as if you were in your own kitchen. (Of course, if the food was this good at home, you’d probably never leave, but that’s not the point. And who has their own personal bartender?) With a great mix of Asian/Pacific (great fresh fish), it’s a welcome stop on any trip.
The next day it was off to the train: the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, to be specific. Since it was still on the winter schedule, my trip took me up the Cascade Canyon to the “Y” turnaround, and offered some of the most dramatic scenery this side of the Grand Canyon. The 1880s cars retain their wood-grained beauty and a style of workmanship rarely seen these days. The engine was the real deal, burning coal, spitting steam, and making slow but steady progress up the narrow and steep canyon passage. In the summer the train goes all the way to Silverton for another look back at an historic mining town. Not a bad place to spend an afternoon, or overnight if you’re so inclined.

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One Response

  1. Hey hey guys, just got your cell text message- WAAAAHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO@@@!!! This is way cool. Glad I’m on bandwagon Nolan. Say hi to Little Louie (SoCal Louie) if he’s still around, and the best to all my Bro’s an Sis’s at ECN. I’ll be checking you out often. And blogging whenever I get a chance.

    Keep it cruisin’ daddy-o!

    Steven G

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