colorado towns: durango

After leaving the Four Corners Monument late in the day, I drove into Colorado, past the sign “Welcome to Colorful Colorado,”  over the San Juan River and between the Ute Mountains.   Dawes sang:

Most people don’t talk enough about the love in their hearts
But she doesn’t know most people feel that same way

~”Most People”

Out my window, tan grasses danced, buttes jutted into blue sky to the west and south, green mountains undulated to the north. Past Aztec Creek, a white cross by the highway spelled “Willie” in red.  Flowers brightened Willie’s cross.  Canyons wound through a strange rounded land.  Solid tan buttes, breathtaking, loomed ahead at Navajo Springs. I sped by Tawaoc, Cross Creek, the sprawling Ute Mountain Casino.  This place is home to the Ute Mountain Tribe.

Before reaching Cortez, the Thunderbird Trading Company beckoned.  A sign enticed with “Stay Retro at the Retro Inn,” but I was headed to Durango.  The landscape greened past the Antique Corral.  Nature, in the form of aggressive weeds and vines, swallowed derelict hotels and liquor stores, but G-Whil Liquors buzzed with business.

I was beckoned to stay in Cortez by the El Capri Hotel, the Motel Tomahawk, Mi Mexico Restaurant, Fiesta Twin Cinemas, Cowboy Town, and the Retro Inn.  I drove right past them all.


Retro Inn in Cortez

Later, after I’d spend two days driving the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway — a loop that circles through the San Juan Mountains through Silverton, Ouray and Telluride — I’d be driving this route again on my way to Mesa Verde National Park.  But on this day, I bypassed the sign for Mesa Verde, the Mancos Valley, Historic Mancos, the Echo Basin Resort.  Lead-bottomed white clouds hovered in a scarlet ocher sky in the early evening light.

Fifteen miles before Durango, in a tree along the roadside, an upside-down yellow metal bicycle and a white skeleton dangled from a tree.  The white bark of aspens and cottonwoods glowed in the evening light and a weathered barn hunkered down in the valley.

In Durango, where it suddenly grew chilly, I checked into the Adventure Inn, changed quickly into warmer clothes, and went downtown in search of The Living Tree for dinner, recommended by the receptionist.  It was closed. Instead I ate momos and garlic naan, washed down with a cold beer, at Himalayan Kitchen: Nepalese, Tibetan and Indian cuisine.  Walking up and down Durango’s charming Main Avenue, lined with charming shops, restaurants and bars, I noted that homes advertised in real estate windows were outrageously expensive.  What a cost to live in such a beautiful place.

At breakfast the next morning, the owner of the Adventure Inn showed videos he’d taken last August in the hotel parking lot.  The first one showed a deer walking around.  The second showed a bear cub.  The third showed a large brown bear, strutting around the parking lot as if he owned the joint, at 6:45 a.m., fifteen minutes before breakfast is regularly served at the hotel.

I left the hotel at 8:20 because I had a long drive ahead of me, and I wanted to walk around Durango in the sunlight before it got crowded. On my way downtown, I passed the Caboose Motel, the Spanish Trails Inn, Gandolf’s Smoke Shop, Your Flesh Tattoo, and the flowing Animas River.

On Main Avenue, I found a wall mural of native Jack Dempsey, who reigned as world heavyweight boxer from 1919 to 1926, on the brick wall of the El Rancho Tavern.  Another mural of Main St., Durango circa 1890, showed a main street crowded with horses, buggies, teepees and a wall sign for 15¢ Star Tobacco.  The brick side of the Olde Tymer’s Cafe sported an old hand-painted sign for S.G. Wall Druggists.  Shops hinted at Durango’s sporting and healthy lifestyle: Spaaah Shop, Grassburger, The Living Tree.  The cowboy mentality with a twist of humor was thrown in: the Lone Spur Cafe, The Diamond Belle Saloon, a cowboy sculpture, The Original Durango Dawg House, Derailed Pour House.  Home decor shops were named Tippy & Canoe, l i v e l y (a boutique), and Eureka! Historic hotels lined the main street: The General Palmer Hotel, billed as Durango’s premier Victorian lodging, and the Strater Hotel, with “the world’s largest collection of Victorian antique walnut furniture,” stood proudly on street corners.


Caboose Motel


El Rancho Tavern


Olde Tymer’s Cafe


Himalayan Kitchen


Main Street in Durango


Spaaah Shop




Brown’s Shoe Co.


The Strater Hotel has “the world’s largest collection of Victorian antique walnut furniture.”


Strater Hotel


The Toh-Atin Gallery, established in 1957, is recognized as a quality dealer in Native American and Southwest Art.




Main St., Durango circa 1890

It was a beautiful morning and I was bowled over by Durango’s charm. But the road was calling, and I had to heed the call. Passing the Siesta Motel (Free Rooms: Just Kidding), I knew I wouldn’t enjoy a siesta until later that evening, when I reached Telluride.


Siesta Motel

Durango was formed in 1881 during the local gold rush when the Denver and Rio Grande Railway connected the town to Denver by rail. In July of 1882, a 45-mile track connected Durango with Silverton, which allowed ore to be hauled with greater speed and less cost.  After the Silver Panic of 1893, the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, many railroads went bankrupt, but Durango and Silverton weathered the Depression and stayed strong.  In the 1950s, Hollywood discovered the town and its western charm, and the area and the steam train became the setting for numerous movies.

Durango continues to thrive today with its craft breweries and distilleries, farms and dude ranches, and its adventure outfitters, offering horseback riding, biking, water sports, ziplining, skiiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, dogsledding, sleigh rides, hiking, rock climbing, jeep tours and fishing.  The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the town’s proximity to the San Juan Skyway make it a convenient and beautiful all-around destination.

I wished I’d had more time here, and I hoped I could go back to explore one day.

*Friday — Saturday, May 18 & 19, 2018*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20-25 photos and to write less than 500-1,000 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, February 20 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, February 21, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation. 🙂