Down there in the southwest corner of Colorado, not far from the New Mexico border, lies the delightful town of Durango.
A railroad and mining hub in the late 19th century, Durango is now one of the cultural centers of the Four Corners area, and its downtown area has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But Durango is much more than a museum piece to a lost era; it is the thriving hub of La Plata County and a culturally and artistically modern mountain town. With the San Juan range serving as the dominant backdrop and the Animas River Valley serving as the centerpiece, Durango also has plenty to offer folks who feel at home in the outdoors.
Indeed, there are countless ways to spend one’s time there at any time of the year, and a multitude of reasons why one should, particularly in winter.
Here are five of them:
Skiing at Purgatory Mountain Resort
A half-hour’s drive north of town is Purgatory, a delightful family- and intermediate-friendly ski and snowboard resort.
With phenomenal views (The Needles, Engineer Peak), abundant snow (260 inches on average annually) and decent vertical (2,029 feet), Purgatory lives up to the Rocky Mountain High ethic without a lot of flash.
Because of a reasonably priced lift ticket (it’s in double digits, dollar wise) and because of the Kids Ski Pass program (season passes are free for children under 11), you’ll see a lot of youngsters and their parents on the hill. And with eight chairlifts, most of them of the high-speed variety, you’ll get the experience without a lot of crowding.
But if Purgatory’s 1,605 skiable acres prove too tame, you can always access 35,000 acres of backcountry via the resort-owned Purgatory Snowcat Adventures (née San Juan Untracked).
The Train from Durango to Silverton
The 50-miles of track that connects Durango with the high-mountain town of Silverton is province of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum.
The railroad, which carries nearly 200,000 passengers a year, mostly in summer, is major cog in the local economy, which annually receives an infusion of a estimated $250 million from railroad tourists. “Either Silverton or Durango lives or dies by the railroad,” a railroad spokesperson said.
Another key element in the railroad’s impact on the community is the museum, which is located at the Durango terminus of the line. Named “the best museum in Colorado” by MSN.com, the museum, which is housed in the original roundhouse, has plethora of exhibits showing the history of Durango, Silverton and points in between and their connection to the railroad.
The Strater Hotel
In downtown Durango, at 699 Main Avenue to be exact, sits the 131-year-old Strater Hotel.
This historic landmark is a living museum, boasting 93 uniquely decorated rooms and the world’s largest collection of antique walnut furniture.
The Strater is also an all-inclusive hotel, with a couple of watering holes, the Old West Saloon and the Office Spiritorium cocktail lounge; the Mahogany Restaurant, which specializes in steaks and seafood, and the 250-seat Henry Strater Theatre, the town’s main venue for concerts, music festivals and other cultural events.
The Winter Carnival
For the past 40 years, downtown Durango in late January is ground zero for Snowdown, which many consider Colorado’s premier winter celebration.
Each week-long Snowdown is themed (this year it was comic-book characters; a few years back steampunk was the centerpiece) and has a number of events, including a theme costume contest, a “golf” tournament at a local pub, a follies revue and a parade.
The Food and Drink
As befitting any tourist destination, the Durango region has a large selection of restaurants and bars to choose from.
Among favorite eating establishments are Eolus (featuring locally sourced New American cuisine), Kennebec Cafe (a Mediterranean-inspired eatery in nearby Hesperus) and Seasons of Durango (a bistro serving hearty American fare).
To slake your (adult) thirst, check out The Nugget, an apres-ski spot just down the road from Purgatory; The Bookcase and the Barber, a speakeasy-type establishment, and El Moro Spirits and Tavern, a steampunk-themed saloon.
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