The climate and natural resources of the Animas Valley in Colorado, has made it a gathering place for humans as far back as 14,000 years ago. The first inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who followed the buffalo herds and other game into the area. The settlement of Durango, Colorado remained sporadic for nearly 12,000 years until the Anasazi culture began to develop. These Native American people built pithouses and settled the area on a permanent basis, growing corn, squash and beans. Then around 800 AD, the Anasazi began to build pueblo dwellings and by 1200 AD, these had grown to apartment complexes containing hundreds of rooms, usually perched in a sheltered alcoves worn from the native sandstone.
Anglo-American settlement of the Animas Valley began in the spring of 1860, when Charles Baker and a prospecting party explored the mountains around Silverton, and reported gold found. Unfortunately, the placer gold was hard to recover, so the party broke up to try and find the actual gold vein. Part of the group moved slowly south to the Animas Valley, following the Las Animas River. However, the area belonged to the Ute Indians, and is wasn’t until 1873, when the Brunot Treaty removed the Native American Tribe, that the area opened for settlement, prospecting and ranching.
The town of Durango was founded in 1880 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. By July of 1882, tracks to Silverton were completed and the train began transporting both freight and passengers. By the turn of the century, Durango had become a vacation destination, with the creation of the San Juan National Forest in 1905 and Mesa Verde National Park in 1906. Today, the Durango Municipal Airport allows for easier access and the town is home to Fort Lewis College and Purgatory Ski Resort. Thousands of visitors flock to Durango each year to fish, hike, mountain bike and ski, or to explore Durango’s historic downtown and nearby archaeological wonders.
Top 5 Things To Do:
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Scenic Railway
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad line runs between the old mining towns of Durango and Silverton, Colorado. The tracks run along the steep sides of a mountain high above the Animas River and the mountain vistas are stunning. Little black steam-powered engines, the same used when the railroad was in operation hauling ore and supplies, pull closed or open air wooden coaches up the steep grades. Depart from the depot in Durango in the morning, have lunch in Silverton and do a little shopping, and then return on the train in the afternoon.
Mesa Verde National Park
On December 18, 1888, two cowboys, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, started up a steep canyon to the top of a high, green mesa in southwest Colorado in search of stray cattle. Through a blinding snowstorm, they saw what they thought was a castle tucked under an overhanging rock. In fact, the were the first Anglo-American explorers to discover the nearly intact remains of an Anasazi pueblo dwelling with over 600 rooms — what is known today as Cliff Palace. Mesa Verde has over 4,500 archeological sites, but the most spectacular are by far the cliff dwellings — Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace, Long House and Balcony House, to name just a few.
The world-renowned Henry Strater Theatre is one of the oldest and most prestigious continually running theatres in Colorado, tallying over 47 years of quality performances. The theater has been extensively renovated, and now houses top of the line stage lighting and surround sound equipment for your pleasure. The Durango & Vaudeville Show is part of the show every summer at the theater. Good, old-fashioned entertainment, ragtime piano and Victorian plays are fun for the whole family. For information on upcoming shows, please visit the Henry Strater Theatre website.
The San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway is a scenic 236-mile highway loop that runs through Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride and points in between. It’s a perfect one-day trip from Durango, taking you along river valleys, over spectacular mountain passes and around towering snow capped peaks. The trip is great all year long, but is particularly scenic during fall Colorfest, when the foliage is ablaze with color. However, if you have a fear of heights, this is not a good trip for you. Often referred to as the Million Dollar Highway (thanks to all the gold that followed the route), Red Mountain Pass has also been called “Oh Shit Pass!” and for good reason … parts of the road clings to narrow ledges several hundreds of feet above the valley floor and there a few if any guardrails.
Historic Downtown Durango, Colorado
Historic Downtown Durango is a great place to explore. The Strater Hotel has been the center of fun and entertainment in Durango for over 120 years, and it’s no different today with live music most nights and great food. You can enjoy walking tours, galleries, shops and more restaurants than you can shake a stick at, as well as marvel and the well-preserved pioneer architecture. From rustic cabins to luxury resorts, there are also dozens of places to stay in Durango that will fit your budget.
For more information on Durango, Colorado visit the Durango Area Tourism website.