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Monday, August 31, 2015 : From Great Sand Dunes to Durango

 

This morning, we are in no particular hurry. We saw what we wanted yesterday at Great Sand Dunes National Park, we are not going back.

 

We walk down to the Oasis for a plentiful breakfast, since the one offered at the lodge is only coffee or tea. We then take the road to Durango, about 170 miles away. First, we cross the same vast plateau as yesterday, then beautiful alpine landscapes to DurangoUS Route 160 goes thru Wolf Creek Pass, a whopping 10,857 ft high ! This whole section of the road is lined with winter sports resorts.

 

We arrive in Durango very early, and our room is not yet ready. We take advantage of the delay to walk to the station to collect our tickets for tomorrow.

 

Durango, CO train station

Durango, CO train station

 

Durango station is conveniently located pretty close to our hotel. The building is absolutely like imagination tells people who have seen a little too many westerns, which is my case. It is classical and very well preserved. A few concessions have nonetheless been made to modernity : bathrooms are beautiful and, of course, the inescapable shop is open.

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Historical mural, Durango, CO

Historical mural, Durango, CO

 

We then go for a walk downtown. We notice that the whole town center is made of more or less well preserved historic buildings. We are in the middle of a western !

 

We go for some shopping. I firmly want to purchase a pair of western boots and a Stetson hat. But here, the prices go thru the roof, turning away the most dedicated shoppers. However, shops seems more authentic than in, say, Santa Fe.

 

By pure chance, we discover this pretty mural that depicts Durango at the end of 19th century. The town was established from scratch by Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to setup a yard, after the town of Las Animas, pretty close by, refused to jointly fund the building. Later on, Las Animas declined, gradually absorbed by its economically way more successful rival.

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General Palmer Hotel, Durango, CO

General Palmer Hotel, Durango, CO

 

After our stroll in the city center, we walk back to our hotel for a few more pictures.

 

We then drive to a mall outside Durango for some shopping. In our room, I saw an ad for Boot Barn, a shop that specializes in western boots. There is no way they can find my size, but it's just a matter of time. The cleck cleverly suggests I try again with other shops when we are in the deep South, hoping their local customers have feet more similar to mine. Here, they seem to sell only giant sizes.

 

We also purchase a prepaid phone card, which will later prove quite useful. It is why, having activated my SIM card with a Utah zipcode, I will spend a few weeks using a Utah phone number.

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Our room at General Palmer Hotel, Durango, CO

Our room at General Palmer Hotel, Durango, CO

 

General Palmer Hotel is a Victorian-style house, typical of the late 19th century. Rooms are like the lobby, corridors and outside, quite typical, well-tended and really good quality. I recommend this house for its charm, its style and its welcome.

 

Our room has no window, but we knew that before coming. Not a bad idea, after all. That way, we won't be awaken by the neartby trains.

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Railroad museum, Durango, CO

Railroad museum, Durango, CO

 

We then go out again, to visit the Railroad Museum, located just behind the station. The entrance fee is included in our excursion package for tomorrow, and we are easily let in.

 

What the museum shows is not limited to the Durango & Silverton Railroad. Though the former mining rail line enjoys a prominent place, the museum also displays cars, a plane, military uniforms of various eras, guns, radio sets and all sorts of objects, more or less linked to the history of the region.

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Durango station model, railroad museum, Durango, CO

Durango station model, railroad museum, Durango, CO

 

The museum hosts many models, including a huge, fully automated electric train circuit. In a window, we can see a scale model of Durango station. It has indeed been very well preserved.

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Luxury car, railroad museum, Durango, CO

Luxury car, railroad museum, Durango, CO

 

An old Durango & Silverton Railroad luxury car has also been preserved. Like shown on the picture, legroom is plentiful, and armchairs look really comfortable. We cannot enter, we have to satisfy ourselves with a look thru one of the end windows.

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The locomotive and me, railroad museum, Durango, CO

The locomotive and me, railroad museum, Durango, CO

 

I can't forget that my great-granddad used to be a steam locomotive driver, well ... a long time ago. For a moment, I stand at the controls of one of the engines. It is nakedly unsophisticated. Instruments are limited to a handful of manometers, and visibility is just thru a small window on each side of the boiler. There are no seats. Nothing in common with contemporary engines !

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Ford model T, railroad museum, Durango, CO

Ford model T, railroad museum, Durango, CO

 

The museum also shows a few vintage cars, including this Ford Model T, which dates back to the 1920s. I have no clue whether it is in driving condition, it is indeed beautifully preserved. Of course, it is not possible to sit at the wheel.

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General Palmer Hotel, Durango, CO

General Palmer Hotel, Durango, CO

 

We then walk back to the hotel, this time thru the backlot. Already, at the turn of last century, some hotels had a back exit, in case of fire.

 

We have dinner at the Palace Restaurant, just beside the station. No way to eat on the veranda, it is packed. Inside has some room, quite noisy. We enjoy high-quality meat entrees. In high season, it is advised to make reservations. The place is famous, well-located and very nice.

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