Winter Train

The days of the steam engine have long passed us by, but if you know where to look, time has not passed us by.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of a handful of Heritage Railroads that still runs today, although these days its primary cargo is passengers. Operating between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountain Range, riding on this railroad is just like stepping back into the past. The mighty steam engines, built in the 1920s, pull out of the station, take a short jaunt through the countryside, then head up into the high mountain passes. Black smoke from the coal-fired engine trails behind as the engine labors up the steep mountain grades, and the casual observer might do a double take as the train rumbles by. Despite the rugged winters, the train runs year round, and the winter train is a stunning sight.

I had the opportunity to be on that winter train, and what an opportunity it was. Departing the station right on time, for the railroad is as punctual as ever, the train pulled out of Durango and headed north toward Silverton. Before too long the grades started and the train began its long assent into the snowy mountains, where the real adventure began. Soon, the tracks met up with the Animas River, and sometimes, the train was amazingly close to the river, such as this section known as “Cement Wall:”

Cement Wall

In other places, the track soared high above the river, which was equally interesting for quite the opposite reason, and the bridge known as High Bridge proved to be a very photogenic location.

High Bridge

 

With the trusses of this bridge dating back to the 1880s, it is easy to image that we are in a different time and a different place as we watch the nightly locomotive brake as it enters the bridge, and time, indeed, stands still.

Winter's CutHowever, for me, the highlight of the winter train was at a place called The Cut. Here, the winter train has to come up a steep incline; at the top, the rock has been cut into a very narrow gap. This 350 foot long gap is just wide enough for the train, and even at that it is a tight squeeze; once through it the train heads off into the San Juan National Forest heading northbound, and is back to civilization while southbound. Here, as the southbound train begins to climb up the hill into the cut, the excitement builds, and you can’t hardly wait for the train to come barreling through The Cut.

Sometimes, though, it is best simply to watch a video:

All in all, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a treasure well worth seeing, and stepping back to the past on.

All aboard!