A Day onThe Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge

Southwest Colorado:

We spent last weekend in Bayfield, CO, in the southwestern Colorado Rocky Mountains.  We enjoyed spending evenings with members of the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) in a major regional rally.  We spent Saturday on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  They are running a lot of old Rio Grande and Southern RR narrow gauge steam equipment from the turn of the last century out of Durango, Colorado. Check out the pictures of the Animus River and the DSNGRR. The rails track through vertical real estate that is claimed by the BLM.  White water this spring is plentiful in Colorado.  This is a full steam operation, except for two GE-44 switch engines.  Most of their runs are during non-snow periods of the year because it’s difficult to clear sixty-ft deep drifts caused by area winter blizzards.  The trip takes all day- 4 hours up to Silverton and 4 hours back.  We were in an open domed observation car which afforded views of the vertical nature of the terrain.  Thank heaven for hot coffee, tea and blankets–and umbrellas when the rain really gets bad.  We traded off a nice warm comfortable seat in a closed parlor car because they told us the best seats were in the observation dome car.  Our car attendant did a great job in taking care of the 18 or so who braved the elements at 10-12,000 feet above sea level.  The trip itself was epic and what I would term “World Class’ because of the service we received and the many vistas that we enjoyed.

This is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Depot in Durango, Colorado.


The first train leaves Durango at 8:00 AM daily.  The second leaves at 8:45, and the last leaves at 9:30. All steam driven

The first train leaves Durango at 8:00 AM daily. The second leaves at 8:45, and the last leaves at 9:30.
All steam driven

Trackside, passengers are in the process of boarding DSNGRR on the 8:45 Am run from Durango to Silverton pulled by a Baldwin 2-8-2 from the old Rio Grande and Southwestern Railroad.

Joe is our engineer on the run this morning.  His fireman will shovel a lot of coal on this 45 mile trip with three stops for water on the way up to Silverton, and only one stop on the way back.  Climbing mountains to 10,000 feet in the Rockies by steam engine is demanding.RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 121

Engine 486 is one of four working steam engines in operation on the DSNGRR.  The up bound trip to Silverton will proceed at between 16 mph to 18 mph.  The consist is made up of a boxcar (supply car) two day coaches, two observation gondolas, a baggage car for food services, a deluxe coach, a domed observation car, and a private party car bring up the rear.


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The boiler plate indicates the engine was built in 1925.

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This view of the engine and the tender shows the load of coal to fire the engine.  Engineer Joe advised that the soft coal is minded nearby from a Colorado coal mine.

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RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 158Train crew Stena and Dakota of the DSNGRR compare her railroad watch with Dakota’s Iphone. Stena is the Domed Observation Car Attendant and guide for the 8:45 am train to Silverton.

RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 164What time does the 8:45 train leave for Silverton from Durango?  On time-that’s when it always leaves.

There is an 8:00 am departure and a 9:30 departure.

The first train leaves Durango at 8:00 AM daily.  The second leaves at 8:45, and the last leaves at 9:30. All steam driven

The first train leaves Durango at 8:00 AM daily. The second leaves at 8:45, and the last leaves at 9:30.
All steam driven

This is the first view from the domed car as we leave Durango.  There is a little bit of sunshine today.  Maybe we’ll find more sunlight later.

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RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 174First view of the mountains in the San Juan range coming up quickly as we follow the Animus River to Silverton, Co.

Cathy and I enjoy a cup of coffee (or Tea) as we enjoy the trip.  We became acquainted with coal dust constantly blowing into the open coach. There were also breakfast pastries and cookies along with bottled water included.  In addition, there were blankets provided to take the chill out of the mountain air and to keep the coal dust off of clothing.

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Engine 486 moves along the woodland and the Animus River.  Heavy rains over the past several weeks  kept the grass and trees a vibrant green.  We are steadily heading upgrade to Silverton.

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Blankets help ward off the cold and damp of the open coach. Next time, we’ll recommend bringing rain coats and jackets.

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Engine 486 is starting the climb upgrade on the run to Silverton.

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In the high pastures of the Rocky Mountains, we see a mare and her foal in a mountain pasture.

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A pastoral lake reflects the surrounding forests and the clouds above.

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This is the Rockwood Depot.  Hikers are dropped off here to hike the surrounding peaks or to trek to and from Silverton.  Rockwood is about half way to Silverton.

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Engine 486 is committed to the climb on the cliffs above the white water of the Animus River.

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The tracks wind around many mountain curves on the way to Silverton and provide a striking view of the Animus River, the mountains and the peaks that are over 14,000 feet above sea level.

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Rocks and trees is a common occurrence each day.

Our train is still climbing upgrade to Silverton, which is above 9,000 feet. Rock slides are quite common along the right of way. A track inspector makes the run every morning ahead of each train from Durango, while another track inspector follows each train on its journey.   Rocks and fallen trees are sometimes found.  Even a small rockslide could damage the tracks and road bed.

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We note a “blow down” beneath the Engine Cab which is done to remove sediment from the boiler water from time to time. It prevents a buildup of sediment from the water.

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With the Animus River close at hand, another blow down for sediment is in order.  Now both sides are cleared of sediment.

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Inside the Dome Observation Car, the views are spectacular.  With Stena on board to point out landmarks and mountains, we learn a lot about the local geology.

RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 347We are getting closer to Silverton Now, just the other side of the center mountain in the distance.

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The Animus River churns along with Class Five white water rapids almost all the way to Silverton.

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Another beautiful view of the mountains along the route of the Durango & Silverton.

RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 412This water tower is one of several remaining from the old Rio Grande and Southern Railway.  This particular water tank is no longer in use but is maintained as an antiquity.

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Engine 486 puts out a lot of smoke as it makes the grade to Silverton and behind schedule by twenty minutes.  During the winter, the DSNGRR will make a run about a third of the way for photographers to take some classic winter snow pictures north of Durango.

RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 419The mountain greenery of spring features the Aspen, which tend to grow just about anywhere in Colorado. In the fall, this view becomes a sea of gold as far as you can see. Fall is the most popular  time to make the trek to Silverton.

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Along the way, we find a deserted goldmine, long sealed up and abandoned to the ages.  We are almost into Silverton.  Evidence of other mining efforts are noted on the surrounding  mountains by the conical slag piles of ore and rocks that bore no gold.

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In the distance we can make out our destination – Silverton, Colorado. Even in the middle of June, there’s still snow on the mountains.  The snow will return in September.

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Finally, we are in downtown Silverton and enjoying the only paved street in town.

RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 532Turned around now for the return trip, Engine 486 awaits it’s passengers for the  2:30 departure and return trip through the mountains to Durango.

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Other passengers enjoyed another type of western transportation – the local stage coach. RV Travels - Southwest Colorado 548Article by Chip Deyerle, Days of Steam.com