A week ago Wednesday we headed out for a long vacation weekend. The original plan had been Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients National Parks/Monuments, but the idiots in Congress and the White House decided to shut those down, poor foreign tourists notwithstanding.
They had not reopened them as we left town, which necessitated some flexibility on our part. We decided to try a long-held desire of Kathleen's: taking the narrow gauge rail road from Durango to Silverton, Colorado.
All I can say is that we really made great lemonade out of those government idiot lemons. Durango itself is nothing special. It wants to be Moab, but it is not even in the same ballpark. That said, the ride to Silverton is spectacular, and the means of getting there is something really special.
I know of no sound more evocative than the piston-puff-pounding, track click-clacking of these old engines.
Together with their haunting, reed-hollow whistle echoing off canyon walls, they say "West" like nothing else, before or since.
It is the sound of freedom and rebirth, danger and the unknown, hard work and spectacular achievement all rolled into one.
And the smell -- of coal burning. I could not stick my head out the window without heavy bits of ash coating my hair, but there is something about that smell that says warmth and home for me. When I grew up, we lived in a small house, high up the foothills of the Wasatch range, with only a dirt road connecting us to the city below. There was no natural gas, and our home was heated by a coal furnace. Though I was younger than six, I remember going to the store with my dad to buy coal in big brown bags, then hauling it to the basement, where he pulled out the slag using "klinkers" (my word, I think), and put more coal in to burn. Maybe it is my Sheffield heritage, but I still love that smell, potential toxins be danged.
The kids, particularly Keegan, loved the experience, even though we never topped 25 miles an hour. Something about the sway of the car, the freedom to walk up and down the isles, and, ok, I admit it, free use of dad's ipad during the six-hour round trip, made it a great experience for them.
Kate didn't need an ipad to keep her busy -- her writing journal, while perhaps a bit squiggily, helped her pass hours on end. Unfortunately, that also meant occasionally missing scenes like these -- Colorado at its finest.
The town of Silverton, our destination, is a gem, very true to its mining outpost roots. It has the feel of isolation and loneliness, even though "the million dollar highway" (really, a two lane road) now runs right through it. We had a fine meal there, which the kids still remember, and wandered around, seeing the old buildings and ducking into a curio shop or two. Here are some pics:
Our dining spot was in full Halloween mode. We tried to count all the spiders and skeletons, but I am sure we missed a few.
Kate was very excited to see the Grand Imperial Hotel, apparently the scene of one of her (four hundred or so) favorite books.
Exactly the type of cab you would expect to see here. Almost wanted to miss the train back to see what this baby could do.
Silverton City Hall. There was silver everywhere -- ceilings, radiators, you name it. They take their name seriously, I guess.
So there you have the first non-driving day of our long UEA weekend. We took the three hour train ride back, and by the time we had arrived in Durango, the idiots in Congress had decided to open the parks again. Only sane decision they have made during the entire tenure since the election, in my view. Next up, Mesa Verde and Hovenweep.