San Juan Skyway and more Durango

The San Juan Skyway is a highway loop in Colorado from Durango to Telluride to Ridgway to Ouray to Silverton and back to Durango.  It includes the famous Million Dollar Highway, a seemingly impossible route through the San Juan Mountains connecting Ouray and Silverton.  Otto Mears was a Russian immigrant known as the “Pathfinder of the SanJuans”.  He found a route for a toll road through the mountains to connect the rich mines around Silverton to the outside world.  He also built narrow gauge railroads to serve the area and connect to the Denver & Rio Grande RR in Durango.  Mears also helped broker a peace treaty with the Utes.  It is said that he spoke Ute with a Russian accent.  His life story is incredible.  For more of the story click on the link…  

Our trip around the loop started west of Durango at Target Tree NFS campground.  We traveled to Delores CO, home of the Galloping Goose a gasoline engine powered innovation serving the area during tough times.

Galloping Goose #5
at Delores CO







We then headed north through the tiny mining town of Rico before stopping in Telluride for lunch while watching a huge elk herd.

Rico CO






Historic mining headframe in Rico

Elk herd very close to Telluride













The loop then took us across Dallas Divide to Ridgway, where True Grit was filmed, Dennis Weaver built an experimental home and Ralph Lauren now lives.  Ridgway is also home to a wonderful small railroad museum and another RGS motorcar.

Dallas Divide

RGS Motorcar #1 at Ridgway CO











From Ridgway the route travels south to Ouray, the “Switzerland of America”.  Ouray is a beautiful town nestled in an incredible valley.  The road south out of the valley seems to go straight up hence the Million Dollar Highway.  It is winding and narrow with sheer vertical drops and no guardrail – or as Dianne says “yellow line, white line, air.”  It is a spectacular drive to Red Mountain Pass and many mines and mining towns.

Ouray “Switzerland of America”

Million Dollar Highway

San Juan Mountains

Red Mountain

Mining district at Red Mountain































The route then drops into Silverton at 9318 feet.  Silverton is the terminus of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and home to our friend Bob Boeder’s Train Art store.  Weather note: it was 93 degrees in Ouray and 61 in Silverton.

Silverton CO







From Silverton the loop takes us south towards Durango again passing across Molas Pass (10910′), Coal Bank Pass (10,640′), past Durango Mountain Resort (Summer home of Music in the Mountains), Haviland Lake (a beautiful kayaking destination) and countless hiking trails.  The Durango area has more than 29 trails many of which originate within the city limits.

Little Molas Trail

One of countless waterfalls


















Our tour glided through Durango, past the steam train returning from its trip to Silverton and back west again to Target Tree, the Ute Indian campsite from way back. Target Tree features a hiking/biking trail on the preserved Rio Grande Southern RR right-of-way.  So the story continues.  History, photography and trains.

Biking the RGS route

Target Tree Campground




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Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad

Jointly owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, the Cumbres & Toltec RR preserves 64 miles of the Denver & Rio Grande route across north central New Mexico and south central Colorado.  It is the highest and longest narrow gauge train in the US.  We love this train!

Fathers Day 2017 the C&T offered a free ride for Dads.  After 39 years as a dad we decided to take them up on the offer.  We had a glorious ride on the full 64 miles from Chama NM to Antonito CO.  The trip stops for an included lunch at Osier and provides a bus ride back to Chama.

Our train pulled by a K-36 Mikado #484

Breaktime for the shop crew

Crossing Lobato Trestle

Steaming up to Cumbres Pass

Elk fleeing as our train approaches

Crossing Cascade Creek

Another train heads to Chama

Posing while at Osier for lunch

Geology stop along the route

The “Mud Tunnel”

Happy to be at Sublette, an old section house

Historic watering stop


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If you’ve followed our blog for a while you probably know we love Durango Colorado.  We visited in the 90s and early 2000s and then had the opportunity to spend 3 Summers working for Carol and Jay at the Durango KOA.  We had 18 months over 3 years to really get to know the place and loved it.  By the end of our last season as workampers we bought a condo as an income property and investment.

Well, this Spring our renters of 4 years moved on and we found ourselves back in Durango to provide a little maintenance before our next renters.  As luck would have it, our good friends David and Kathryn had a townhouse becoming vacant just as we arrived and they offered to let us stay while we worked.  Heaven!  A beautiful home close in to town to babysit for our friends.

One of our favorite things about Durango is the Irish Emabssy Pub where they have traditional sessions every Sunday.  Our first visit this year had 16 musicians and a couple of young dancers.  It was 3 hours of good music and comradery.  See our You-Tube video…

Another favorite activity in Durango is the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  There is a community of local farmers and gardeners and lovers of fresh produce who come together each week to talk and share.  We met people from the Durango Ag. Extension office and state forest service.  We met a grower from nearby Bayfield who invited us to visit his farm.  We met a mycologist from Telluride selling home mushroom kits and talking about collecting in the wild.  And we brought home gorgeous produce!

Durango Farmers Market

And, of course, what brought us to Durango in the first place was the steam train.  The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been operating on the old Denver and Rio Grande tracks since  the 80s and still provides a memorable experience daily from Durango North thru the Weminuche Wilderness to the old mining town of Silverton.  The sights and smells and sounds of this very successful tourist train bring us back year after year.

2017 looks like a banner year for the D&S.  While 3 trains per day are the norm, we saw many days when a fourth train was added to accomodate the throngs of people arriving to ride.  We “chased” the train to shoot some memorable images of this classic.

Passing under US550

Crossing thru Rockwood

473 follows a manmade ledge

Climing into the San Juans

482 returning to Durango



























For more of the story click on this wikipedia link…



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Cozad and North Platte Nebraska

Crossing Nebraska on the interstate we found a lovely city park and campground in Cozad. It was near enough to the Union Pacific main line to see up to 100 trains per day.  Cozad was also historically significant as it sits on the 100th Meridian of longitude, the first goal of the Transcontinental Railroad which initiated the first payments to the Union Pacific from the Federal Government.

Up to 100 trains per day

100th Meridian

North Platte Nebraska is home to the largest classification railroad yard in the world, Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard.  We visited that yard and its observation tower several years ago but this time we found a small museum and depot display at Cody Park.  The display includes the Challenger steam locomotive #3977, a breakthrough articulated 4-6-6-4 built in 1943 that could pull heavy freight trains at up to 60 MPH.  The locomotive is huge 122 feet long and weighs 314 tons.  The display also includes #6922 diesel-electric locomotive Centennial, the largest and most powerful diesel locomotive ever built.  These were built by General Motors Electro Motive Division and featured 2 – 3300 hp diesel engines.  The museum also had a historic depot from nearby Hershey NE, a Pacific Fruit Express reefer car, Railway Post Office car and a caboose.

UP’s Mighty Challenger

UP’s Giant Centennial Diesel


This is Union Pacific country
























All in all a worthwhile stop on our way from Michigan to Colorado.





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Bent’s Old Fort, Colorado

1930s entrance to the National Historic Site

Reconstructed fort

Trading room

From 1833 to 1849 Bent’s Old Fort was a trading post on the frontier between the United States and Mexico.  It was the only major settlement on the Sante Fe trail.  Trappers, buffalo hunters, Indians, Spaniards, freighters, soldiers and settlers stopped at this site on the Arkansas River.  At any time one could hear seven languages spoken and there was peace.  Trade here influenced economies around the world.  William Bent known to the Cheyenne as “Little White Man” had an excellent reputation among the plains Indians due to his respect for the culture and fairness in trading.

This is one of those third or fourth level National Park Service sites that we just love finding.  We always learn something of history or nature that we were ignorant of previously.  Here we learned of a bright side to human relations during the United States Westward Expansion.

Spacious interior

Rare comforts in the West

Defensive walls and bastions never had to be used due to threats

Saw a baby rattlesnake whose venom is far deadlier than an adult (he was released into the wild outside the fort)

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Council Bluffs Iowa and Omaha Nebraska

Our journey across the plains took us the length of Iowa.  Endless farmfields of newly planted or awaiting corn.  The area had recently had a tremendous amount of rain and rivers and creeks were full, many farms still muddy.  The rolling countryside reminded us of large ocean swells going on forever.


Council Bluffs – Still a big railroad town

Council Bluffs had been on our list for a while as the home of the Union Pacific Museum and a huge collection of Transcontinental Railroad history.  It was here that President Lincoln chose the site where the railroad would begin.  The Union Pacific began building West while the Central Pacific built East from Sacramento California.  The Union Pacific Museum is housed in a Carnegie Library building in downtown Council Bluffs.  The museum is supported by donations and the staff are friendly.  The museum tells the story of the UP throughout its history.  There are great displays of the Transcontinental Railroad as well as UP Streamliners, the Challenger Passenger train and even AMTRAK.  There are displays utilizing all kinds of media including historic steriopticons,  in character video, multi screen video and diesel cab simulator.


Originally a Carnegie library – Now the Union Pacific Museum





















Another prime attraction in Council Bluffs is the Grenville M. Dodge Mansion.  Built in 1869, the home of the Union Pacific’s Chief Engineer for the Transcontinental project. Dodge had been a very succesful Union General in the Civil War and his military talents helped him to great success executing the railroad.  The home was built at the astronomical cost of $35,000 and had electric and gas lighting and indoor plumbing.  The home has been beautifully restored by the city and volunteers gave us a marvelous tour. Dodge was a master of railroad design and construction and went on to build railroads in France and Russia.  While there we saw huge wild turkeys running wild through town. Our docents told us turkeys and deer are a big problem in the city.

Grenville Dodge Mansion

Re-created home scene













The man in Civil War General uniform










Council Bluffs was also the location of the first meeting between Lewis and Clark and Native Americans under the council tree on their trek west in 1804.

The view today from the council bluff






We enjoyed our stay at the Omaha Elks lodge but we weren’t impressed with drivers in town.  Red light running seems to be a pastime there.  Crazy!






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Port Huron Michigan


Blue Water Bridge

Port Huron Michigan sits at the Southern end of Lake Huron where the St. Clair River begins.  The Blue Water Bridge connects the city to Sarnia Ontario Canada.  We happened to stay here a few days to visit Randy’s aging aunt Evelyn and cousin Linda in nearby Owosso.

Turns out Port Huron is a pretty interesting town.  There is a beautiful waterfront park which is enjoyed by walkers and fisher people.  We visited the Thomas Edison Depot Museum in the historic Fort Gratiot railroad depot built by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1858.  The museum tells the story of the young Thomas Edison who grew up in Port Huron and first worked on the train reporting and hawking newspapers from 1859 to 1863.  There are artifacts from the site of the Edison family home that include some of the young wizard’s early tinkering.


Statue of young Thomas Edison


The Thomas Edison Depot Museum

The lakefront also featured a beautiful lighthouse.  Fort Gratiot lighthouse is the oldest in Michigan.  Built in 1829 it was heightened to 82 feet in the 1860s.  It still watches over one of the busiest waterways in the world.


Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

The lightship Huron is also on permanent display along the river.  Horon was the last operating lightship in the Great Lakes.  It was retired after serving to make a shoal near the entrance to the St. Clair River for over 50 years.20170520-IMG_8896

No trip along the Great Lakes waterway system is complete without seeing a huge lakes freighter bearing down.20170520-IMG_8903

For a great read and another angle on the Thomas Edison story, read “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore.  It is a historical fiction account of the Current War and the battle between Edison and George Westinghouse over the patent for the lightbulb.

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