Thursday, May 22, 2014

A literal taste of Durango and other delights

May 14-18, 2014
Alpen Rose RV Park
Durango, Colorado

Our strategy for this leg of our springtime travel is to spend time in new places. We also agreed that, with a limited amount of time before our visit with the grandkids, we would split most of our time between just two places rather than a couple nights here and there. The winning places for this two-week window of time were Durango and Moab.

durango moab map

The drive from Albuquerque to Durango absolutely confirmed that we made the right choice. Our first sight of the Rocky Mountains gave us both a feeling of welcome home. There’s no denying that landscapes of green valleys with snow-peaked mountains and winding rivers elicits a strong feeling of connectedness from our Western souls. Having spent almost five months in Florida now seems surreal by comparison. If Colorado were closer to the ocean, we could easily envision ourselves choosing this state as a place to settle down (with winter escapes included).

Our first glimpse of the Rockies on our drive north on Hwy 550 from Albuquerque:

The scenery grew greener, and to us, even more welcoming, as we drove into Durango’s Animas Valley.

Thanks to great reviews from Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, the decision to stay at Alpen Rose RV Park was an easy one. The park is a rural setting about six miles north of Durango, just off Hwy 550.  Most of the full-hook-up, gravel sites look out to lovely views of pastured horses, foothills, and snow-capped mountains to the north.

When I checked in, I was also quite excited to see an abundance of blooming lilac trees in the back section of the park. The girls in the office told me I could help myself to clipping some of the lilacs to bring indoors. I couldn’t wait to stick my nose in a bouquet of lilacs.

The park also has an amazing two acre dog run with the best views in the campground. What a treat for our dogs after their borderline neglect during our two-week stay at Betty’s in Abbeville, Louisiana.

On our first full day here, we headed into the historic downtown area to visit the tourist information center and walk main street. The Tourism Office was incredibly helpful. We left armed with more brochures and possible activities than imagined. The ladies behind the counter offered these as their top suggestions for visiting the area: #1--Narrow Gauge Train Ride from Durango to Silverton, #2—Explore Mesa Verde National Park, #3—Bike the Animas River Trail. They also had many suggestions for restaurants, live music venues, hiking trails, and upcoming events such as The Taste of Durango.

For a town of 17,000, we were both amazed at the number of retails shops, restaurants, and bars Durango offers. Tourism is the primary industry here, especially in the summer—accounting for the lively atmosphere of this charming historic town which has done a great job of maintaining its authenticity as a classic Western town while at the same time feeling hip and urban.

As excited as we are to be here, I would be remiss to not mention how bad our allergies have been since we arrived. Somehow the dry air and altitude, coupled with the cedar, juniper, cottonwood, and aspen pollen have given us more allergy symptoms than usual. The high winds that develop almost every afternoon have made the pollen even more abundant. It seems like a small price to pay for these gorgeous views and green vistas, but it has taken its toll on our energy levels. Could be the 6500 ft. altitude as well. . . .

The Tourist Office’s recommendation for the trip to Silverton on the coal-fired, steam engine train looked quite enticing until we saw the price ($85 each) and considered the time (3 1/2 hours) it took to ride each way to Silverton. Our alternative was to take the one-hour drive there in our Jeep which would give us time to explore without worrying about how long we would be leaving the dogs.

We were more than pleasantly surprised with the scenic vistas on the drive to Silverton. The 45-mile  trip took us over a couple snow-covered passes with steep grades, narrow turns with minimal guard rails, and at least one tunnel.

We both agreed we would not want to drive our motorhome on this part of Hwy 550, let alone the even more treacherous stretch between Silverton and Ouray, known as the Million Dollar Highway. We know folks who have traveled this road in 5th wheels and even a 43’ Allegro Bus, but I would have to be heavily sedated and belted onto the couch with a rosary in my hands and the blinds pulled down to even consider it. I even felt a little queasy in the Jeep and I am not normally leery of mountain roads.

The once prosperous mining town of Silverton is definitely a picturesque setting.The gold and sliver mines have all closed, but the town has retained the flavor of the past in almost all its details including the steam train’s daily arrival, the old West architecture of the buildings on the street, and the restoration of former bars, brothels, and livery. Vic also observed that the only paved street in town was main street.

We learned only 350-400 folks live in the town, so it has not been too hard to retain its old time characteristics as there are no strip malls or large developments in town. The train’s tourist clientele are a main part of the town’s economy. It almost feels like a Hollywood set that goes into full gear for the three hours tourists have for their stopover to explore the town and visit one of the several eateries or taverns.

As we walked around pretending we were back in the early 1900s, we fell for the idea of taking our first old-time photo together. The studio there, Old Tyme Portrait Parlour, was the most authentic we had ever seen with hundreds of costumes and props to choose from. The photographer, Professor Shutterbug, had been doing this work for almost forty years. He was a real pro in making the experience fun and easy. We quickly decided on an old time cowboy theme and the next thing we knew he had us trying on chaps and buckling gun belts around our hips. At least half the fun was the dress-up part. The hard part was choosing just one pose. To our surprise, we both liked the intensity of this outdoor shot with rifles. (Vic’s beard is real!)

It seems fitting that right after taking this photo, we wandered into a Western wear shop where I found a pair of irresistible cowboy boots for a great price—good thing we didn’t splurge on the train tickets too!  I actually tried on three different pairs, but these were like Cinderella’s slipper when I put them on. Sold.

cowboy boot

That night, after our trip to Silverton, we decided to go find some live music in downtown Durango. This also gave me a chance to sport my new boots and perhaps break them in on the dance floor. The music at the country western bar we discovered did not start until 9 p.m., so we started off the evening with an acoustic set at the Four Leaves Winery (which had good wine from imported grapes), followed by a cocktail at the Diamond Belle Saloon in the haunted Strater Hotel, circa 1880s. After that, we stopped for an appetizer at Chimayo, an upscale Southwestern bistro. By the time we got to the Wild Horse Saloon, we were a little weary, the band did not inspire us too much, plus there was a cover charge so we decided to call it a night. We really did like the looks of the place with a large open dance floor and a cool western motif. They even teach a variety of dance classes there on week nights. We vowed to return another night when we felt more like dancing.

Saturday morning we had a big surprise when I met someone in the dog park at the campground who knew Vic years ago. She was a former neighbor and good friend from his past (first marriage)  She has an adorable black golden doodle named Murphi who had fun running around with Rico and Jetta. I noticed her husband, Ron, had a Boise State hat on so I teased him a little about the Oregon State rivalry we have experienced against Boise State at football games and he said his wife’s kids were OSU alumni. I introduced myself to her and and when she heard Vic’s last name, a strange look came upon her face. I think she realized I must be Vic’s second wife. It turned out her middle son and Vic’s son were best friends all through high school. We haven’t had much of this kind of completely unexpected “small world” connection turn up in our travels. I took her to the motorhome to meet Vic and he was simply blown away. He hugged Barbara so hard I thought he would never let go. (Maybe they were more than neighbors? Ha!)  Barbara had also remarried, so there was much catching up to do. They invited us for happy hour at their place later that day.

Our main Saturday plan was to visit the Durango Farmer’s Market and bike the Animas River Trail, a seven mile paved trail that follows the city's greenway along the river. The market was good, but it was clear the season here has not yet begun as the main vegies being sold were in the form of plants. A few places had some early spring greens, but unlike the markets in Oregon, they must not have many local gardens with greenhouses for early vegie offerings.  They did have some wonderful baked goods, grass-fed meats, and raw milk cheeses. All high on my list! 

It turned out to be quite windy for our bike ride, so we opted for an outdoor picnic and walk around the James Ranch, a few miles north of our campground. I learned about this multiple generation family-owned ranch at the farmer’s market as they had a booth there. They are only open on Saturdays this time of year for sampling their offerings from an outdoor grill and touring their beautiful grounds.

I was quite taken with their dairy cows and calves. Each of the cows wore a nametag on her ear. The cow in the photo below is Rita. Aside from selling raw milk to private clientele, the main proprietor’s son makes raw milk cheeses that they sell to the public,

By the time we returned back to the campground, it was happy hour. We spent the next few hours visiting with Barbara and Ron of Boise. They were quite interested in how we met, our full-time lifestyle, etc. We also heard some amazing stories from Ron, who is a retired U.S Marshall. He was actually the main Marshall assigned to the infamous Randy Weaver case in Idaho before the FBI took over (and made a mess of things). With all this intrigue, I neglected to take a single photo. Darn.

While we were visiting, we heard loud singing coming from the outdoor patio near the office. We discovered it happened to be karaoke night at the park—something the owners and park volunteers do whenever the mood strikes. We joined in listening and applauding the various performances which grew sillier as the night went on. The whole evening turned out to be an unexpected delight as our intentions had been to go back to the Wild Horse Saloon for dancing, but this outcome was surely better as we really enjoyed our evening with Barbara and Ron and sure hope to see them again on the trail somewhere.

Sunday’s plan was set as soon as we heard about it: attend the Taste of Durango. With all the highly- rated eateries in the area, we figured this experience would be worthwhile. The event was free but you needed to purchase tokens for food and drinks. All the money from the tokens is donated to the local soup kitchen, so aside from being fun, we were contributing to a worthy cause.

The venue ran about four blocks down Main Avenue with offerings from over thirty vendors including four craft breweries. We were also surprised to see most restaurant booths offering wildly creative cocktails as most street parties in the West seem to be restricted to wine and beer offerings. With live music and cocktails ranging from bloody mary’s made with poblano-infused vodka to absinthe flavored champagne, it was clear Durango takes their Taste of Durango celebration seriously. What a fun time.

After The Taste, we stopped at one of the locally-owned organic food stores so I could stock up on my favorite health drink: kombucha, an effervescent fermented tea that I first discovered on tap in an Oregon brew pub. It has been hard to find it in the South, but I knew I was almost “home” when I saw this large offering at Natural Grocer’s in Durango. Exciting—and the prices were significantly lower than Whole Foods and The Fresh Market where I found it in Florida. I like to mix it with Perrier to stretch it and cut some of the fermented intensity. This store even had my favorite brand from Portland called Brew Dr. that comes in flavors such as Wild Rose, Clear Mind, and Love.


Next up: our exploration of Mesa Verde National Park and some other local adventures during our last few days in this seductive Colorado mountain town.


  1. WOW....what an adventure you two are having. We have been to Durango twice. We did ride the train to Silverton. The train ride up was wonderful, with beautiful views, but coming back down was rather redundant. We should have rode the train up and the bus back down. Durango is a cute little town. We always have a great time when we visit there.

    I LOVE those boots. They would fit right in when we are in Texas. The colors are awesome! I am jealous.

    The Taste of Durango looks wonderful. What fun you two are having. Keep enjoying the good life!

    You will love Mesa Verde!

    1. Maybe we need to set a date to meet up at the Houston Rodeo! I am very drawn to the cowboy lifestyle which doesn't really make sense since I grew up in Northern Illinois; however, my father had a dude ranch there before I was born.

      We both agreed we would love to splurge on the train ride for their annual Polar Express with our grandkids (or the craft beer or wine tasting runs!)

  2. Sounds like a good time for you and Vic in Durango. Love those new boots. They should look great at the Wed, get together at Holiday Cove!!! :) We were only there for a few days to see Hans and Lisa before heading to Estes Park (Jessica was flying in for a visit). We joined them at that same park. It is a nice town just about the right size with a very nice Starbucks:) We did manage to ride the bike trail and stop at a BBQ place along along the way. We also got in a great hike. Like you, we passed on the train after seeing the price.

    1. Ha ha about the Wednesday gathering at Holiday Cove. I may be up for it after all. Vic made it to the Durango Starbucks when I was off wandering main street. We were quite drawn to the downtown vibe and all the different places to explore.

  3. This is just a GREAT post. You are on the exact route between Albuquerque and Moab that we intended to take this year before the solar adventure. But I'm thinking now that making the Gathering of All Nations in Albuquerque would have made us WAY too early for Durango. That picture of you two is just fantastic. And I LOVE your boots. Next time we have to match boots. I have two pair with me. But I don't have my red sequined cowgirl hat. You just look amazingly happy and I can sure see why. Thanks for the fun read.

    1. I am anxious to read more about the Solar Adventure. . . .

      The western lure is definitely upon us. It's rather inexplicable that this Chicago girl and San Francisco boy would be so drawn to the cowboy lifestyle. I would love to "match boots" with you. There is something about the boots that makes me feel fully alive. A red sequined cowgirl hat sounds awesome Sherry. I want to see a photo of you in it regardless of the setting!

  4. We loved Mesa Verde. The ranger tour was really good. The history of that area is fascinating. Your new boots are beautiful. We weren't in Durango very long, clearly we need to go back!

    1. Geez. We already missed the ranger tour, but enjoyed our time there nevertheless. I can see you liking this town quite well. Biking is the number one activity. I was remiss in not taking photos of the very serious bikers ascending the road to Silverton. Quite inspiring, even though I will never be doing that.

  5. take your jeep up the lime creek trail to Silverton... a rocky mountain road that use to be the original way to Silverton... I use to backpack into the Weminuche Wilderness just north of Lake Vallacito... many good memories for me in that area... I even rode my mountain bike down the highway you drove up to Silverton on... topped 60 mph coming down the mountain... Yikes! Man I was dumb back then....

    1. We have not done much off-road Jeeping, but this idea sounds like quite an adventure. I can see you backpacking in this area and being a daredevil with your bike on the highway to Silverton. It is amazing to think of some of the things we did when we were younger that seem quite perilous to us now!

  6. I'm glad Alpen Rose worked out for you. That dog area is amazing compared to most parks! We were there about a month later than you and had much less snow in the higher elevations.

    1. Yes, thanks for this great recommendation! You are also one of the 5th wheels we know who braved the Million Dollar Highway. Judging by the photos you posted from Ouray, it looks like it was more than worth it. Surprisingly, Vic said he would go for it but I am happy to say we had other plans.

  7. Isn't that Million Dollar Highway the most beautiful ride? We loved Durango and will certainly check out Alpen Rose RV Resort. I hope they allow 4 canine dependents. What a small country this neat to meet with an old friend of Vic's.

    I need some of the Brew Dr.'s Clear Mind!

    1. We didn't get to do the Million Dollar Highway part between Silverton and Ouray as the highway is currently closed for repairs from 8 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I would like to do take this trip someday, but preferably in the Jeep. (I now know you are much more adventurous than me with all your motorcycle and 4-wheeling adventures.)

  8. This was like a wonderful walk down memory lane for me. We haven't been to Colorado in many years, but are headed there early fall for a family wedding. We will have to check out this RV resort as well. I love your new boots. I am thinking about getting a pair for the western wedding. I also love kombucha and used to make my own before our RVing days. I have never tried the Brew Dr. brand but will set out to find some. Thanks!

    1. Colorado in the fall will be just beautiful. I think you would like Alpen Rose quite well as it such a peaceful setting.

      Go for the boots! Every girl should have a pair, don't you think?


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