[Las Vegas; Hoover Dam; Grand Canyon; Monument Valley; Mesa Verde]; Durango, Black Canyon of the Gunnison; Grand Mesa
Durango is a nice little town created in 1881 by a railroad to serve San Juan mountain range mines. It is a great location for outdoor activities: rafting, canoeing, fishing, biking, backpacking and golf in the summer, skiing in the winter. But for those of us just passing through, I believe the highlight is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operating out of the 1882 depot.
The track winds up narrow canyons through the San Juan National Forest, and a ride offers one spectacular view after another. One can ride inside refurbished old cars, but the seats are perpendicular to the track and one sits side by side so those on the inside are looking out the window over another passenger. It is far better to ride in an open car facing out — just wear something that won’t show the soot and smoke from the classic steam engine; it’s worth a little dirt. One can go both ways in a day with a stop for lunch in Silverton or one can take a
bus one way. Finally, you are able to buy a package for the railroad and an adventure tour such as zip-lining or a jeep tour.
You could spend your entire vacation in the Durango area, but this itinerary assumes you will be moving on to the next site. So drive from Durango over the Million Dollar Highway first to Silverton and then to Ouray, once mining towns now given over to tourists. US 550, The San Juan Skyway, is mostly a two-lane mountainous road that will take you to Montrose. But it is the first portion that gives the road its name. There are many reasons offered for the name but as far as I am concerned, it has “million dollar views” all along the way. You will climb over Coal Bank Pass (10640 feet), Molas Pass (10910) and Red Mountain Pass (11018). If you are going early or late (October to May), be sure to check snow conditions.
Outside Montrose is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, one of the lesser known
parks but worth a visit to the 2000 foot tall narrow canyon walls. Drive along the top looking at the unusual rock layers which rival any modernist painting. And unlike the Grand Canyon, you can drive down in for a look from the Gunnison River. For the adventurous there is rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, and rafting. There is camping, fishing and horseback riding. And most of your friends will not have heard of it.
Even as you come off the mesa you wind down the narrow Plateau Creek canyon to Interstate 70 which follows the Colorado River into Grand Junction.
Next: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Natural Bridges