Historic steam trains pass through the heart of downtown Durango. | Photo by Malcolm Surgenor / flickr.com

By John Leach

Durango was founded in 1879 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to serve as a gateway to the San Juan Mountains, and it continues to serve that function today, although ski areas, Mesa Verde National Park and historic mining towns have replaced the silver and gold mines that once were the destinations for visitors to the San Juans.

The city, however, is best known for the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which uses steam-powered locomotives and passenger cars to transport tourists to the mining town of Silverton along a route first carved through the mountains in 1882. Movie fans will recall it from the opening scenes of 1967’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” with actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford staging a train robbery.

Durango also offers summer visitors gold medal fly fishing on the Animas River, as well as whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing on its waters, and the city is a haven for bicyclists, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, rock climbers, golfers and hikers.

The city still has remnants of its historic past in 86 downtown buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s that have earned placement on the National Register of Historic Places, led by the Strater Hotel, the D&RG Railroad Depot., the Newman Building, the General Palmer Hotel and the Palace Hotel.

Durango also is a gateway to the Mesa Verde National Park and the San Juan Mountains.

The Southern Ute Reservation begins six miles south of Durango and serves as the home for one of three tribes of the Ute Nation that used to range across the Colorado Plateau.

The tribe has built the Sky Ute Casino Resort about 24 miles southeast of Durango.

More Durango
Durango history

“Must-see” attractions
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Durango Mountain Resort
Mesa Verde National Park

More attractions
Chimney Rock National Monument
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum
Strater Hotel

Durango facts
Population: 31,507 (2010 Census).
Land area: 6.8 square miles.
County: La Plata (Durango is county seat).
Altitude: 6,512 feet above sea level.
Climate: Cool summers, cold winters, and low humidity, with abundant sunshine year-round. Annual precipitation of 19 inches, including average snowfall of 69 inches. Snow depth of 3 to 7 inches from December through February. January averages: high 40, low 10. July averages: 85 high, 50 low. More weather >>