Wed. Oct. 9, 2013:
It had just dawned on me that we had tickets for the open air gondola on the scenic train from Durango to Silverton- a train that basically goes up a mountain to a mountain-top town, where the next day’s forecast was calling for snow. Crap, I was going to freeze again. I had on 4 layers but that still didn’t seem like enough, I ended up bringing the blanket with me as well. We stopped at McDonald’s, wherein my “no muffins in American McDonalds” theory was in fact confirmed. I had to settle for just a French vanilla latte, which was actually quite decent given it was from McDonald’s.
It was a good thing we brought the blanket, our train car had no windows, just railings and a roof. Our seats were facing outwards as well. We cuddled up under the blanket, the trip had not even started and already I was shivering. The first part of the 3 hour train ride was meh; we were just passing through Durango on our way out towards the mountains. There were some horses grazing in a field nearby, completely unfazed by the giant steam train chugging by. Lots of people stopped by the side of the road to wave to us and photograph the train; they all seemed so amused by it.
The sun was rising on our side of the train, providing some warmth, but also, coupled with the smoke from the train, a lot of post-production to be done on my photos later on. It only got colder as the ride continued, the altitude counteracting the rising sun. I was shivering, my feet were going numb. I stayed wrapped under the cocoon of a blanket, only periodically untangling myself to take pictures.
There were stupid people coming in from other train cars, crowding in the corner of our car trying to get photos. It was annoying but there wasn’t much to be done about it and I was way too cold to care. The cold worked in our favour, in that it made those people leave rather than linger. We saw a red tail hawk land in a tree.
The scenic beauty really started once we entered the San Juan National Forest. The leaves were mostly yellow, with only a few red and orange leaves here & there- all this contrasted against the green of the pines. Our train rode alongside the Anamas River, making it that much more scenic. As we climbed in altitude (the highest number I saw was in the 17,000 range apparently) it got much colder but even more beautiful, it was a worthy trade-off. The river forked and there were snow-capped mountains in the distance. It took me a while to get a shot of the train as it went round a bend, but I finally got one… and then quickly retreated to my blanket cocoon. We saw an old mine shaft and some old boxcars. There was also a guy who had been living in a tent in the forest getting kicked out by some guys on horseback. It was weird.
We had 2 hours of time to kill in Silverton, the mountaintop town aka it was freezing cold. We made a beeline for Thee BBQ Pit, as featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, so said our scenic train ride brochure. It was really our best bet in town, and it made up for not getting BBQ the day before on Lake Powell. The food was good, but by no means outstanding. We split pulled pork & beef brisket sandwiches. On the side we had an order of deep-fried pickles: I will stick with regular pickles from now on. Once the breading falls off (which it does so easily) you are left with a warm greasy pickle.
Lunch took all of 30 minutes; we still had a lot of time on our hands. The town map said there was a post office, but the map needs updating for that post office is gone. We wandered up and down the two main streets- twice and we still had a lot of time. We wandered aimlessly, stopped to play on a playground, gawked at a stop sign in the middle of the road. Turns out Silverton is a small and very boring town, the only attraction being the surrounding beauty and the novelty of being so high up on a mountain.
The train had left to turn around, so on our way back we got a view of the other side. It was still freezing cold; the sun had done nothing to warm things up. Now I was also sleepy, my eyelids got heavy and I kept dozing off and waking up with a start. On this side there was a waterfall. It was rather clear though that the other side was the more scenic one, with better views of the river. I stuck to my guns though; I needed to see both sides of the scenic train ride. I did not enjoy going over the really high, seemingly rickety bridge over the river. Other people clamoured to the railings to look down, I stayed put.
As we got closer to the town we were greeted by more passersby, waving and taking pictures. We rode alongside the Million Dollar Highway (partly ruining our post-train ride evening plans I might add). Some people would do a double-take or just stare at us; it was hilarious to watch people’s reactions to a steam train passing by. Between the tracks and the road there was a series of groundhogs all popping their heads out: were they also watching the train pass by?
Once we got into Durango, I was antsy to get off the train. I was frozen, my hips & knees were sore from sitting in the same no-room-to-stretch-my-legs-out position for a total of 6 hours. A photographer on the train tried to sell us souvenir photos he had taken of us earlier, I took one quick glance and turned him down. I was so pink in the face and tired looking, it was awful.
Back in the car I was not happy about the sitting, but I was thrilled about being able to turn the heater all the way to full blast. I was also happy to be reunited with my candy stash. The Munch bar turned out to just be peanut brittle, not sure why they did not just write that on the wrapper. We were taking the Million Dollar Highway to Telluride, Colorado. It quickly became apparent that we were backtracking, passing through the San Juan National Forest, passing by Silverton.
As we wound our way through the mountains, I had almost warmed up and my ears were on the verge of popping but they were stuck in limbo. Off in the distance there was a giant, massive, snow-capped mountain. There was also snow on the ground by the side of the road, I was so glad to be inside the nice warm car.
There was a waterfall running down the side of the mountain that we could see across a valley- the Million Dollar Highway was living up to its title as one of the most scenic drives in America. We could see Silverton from afar; it was so flat in and amongst the mountains. Around one switchback there was a large shoulder with a pile of rocks- and a guy in a pick-up truck loading the truck bed with rocks, so weird. We finally passed through the tunnel that we saw a road sign for… half an hour ago. From that sign to the tunnel there had been no other exits, that is why there was such an early warning for it. And it was barely even a tunnel; it was more of a shack built over the road for some reason.
Once again we were racing the sun, hoping to get to our destination before it set. Alas, we were left on dark roads with no street lights. Driving into Telluride sucked. There was construction on one block of the main road into town just past a roundabout. We could not find our hotel. Eventually we found out where it was; only we had to drive around another hotel, through their parking lot, along a driveway that was still being constructed.
The parking lot at our hotel was full. Our keys and check-in info had been left in an envelope in the mailbox by the office door. As it turns out there was additional parking in the municipal parking lot. There was no direct way to go to it, thanks to construction and one way streets. We had to make a giant loop around before we finally got to the parking lot… next door.
I was exhausted, groggy and I felt funny all over. The in-room binder convinced me I had altitude sickness. The binder also helpfully explained why I kept getting sunburns and why I was so itchy. I was too tired to walk anywhere for food, there was no way we would drive and it was raining. I ended up eating the orange I had leftover from my lunch at Monument Valley for dinner.