Outdoor Adventure in the Old West: Durango, Colorado

Mountains, rivers and music in an historic Colorado mining town

Rafters navigate the rapids in Durango, CO. Flickr/Tony
Rafters navigate the rapids in Durango, CO. Flickr/Tony

The kayak park is at the base of Smelter Mountain, and the eponymous rapids are the grand finale of the whitewater rafting tours. If there’s a spot that’s going to flip the boat, Smelter’s it, and the photographers are waiting, though the action seldom turns disastrous. That said, my expensive sunglasses are still down there someplace, forever nestled underwater in the rocks.

Smelter Mountain has an important place within Durango’s history too. The gold and silver ore that was found in the mountains was transported via the train down into Durango and processed on the banks of the Animas River. This was the original purpose and livelihood of the encampment.

During World War II, uranium ore was found in the Four Corners area, and the Smelter facility was used to process it for use in the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The tiny town of Durango was actually on Hitler’s list of places to strategically bomb.

There’s something going on at the Durango Children’s Museum too. The town’s really doing it up on a Thursday night, more so than I remember. It’s some gala dinner and a guy with a microphone describing an astrological event that sounds pretty boring. The actual structure is really cool though: it was the original Durango DC electric generation facility. The smokestack still stands, though the museum is solar powered now.

Local deer walk the streets of Durango, CO. Photo by Jack Bohannan
Local deer walk the streets of Durango, CO. Photo by Jack Bohannan

While walking back to Main, we see two young deer grazing on the landscaping outside one of the breweries. The camera phones of the people on the patio all come out, but deer are a pretty common sight within the city limits. When we lived here, we grew tired of the animals I termed “the idiots,” and we both wished they did a better job of staying out of the road.

All the same, it’s incredible how the wilderness mingles with the town in Durango – that’s why people are drawn here, and why my wife and I find ourselves contemplating a move back. Durangotangs, as the locals are called, know a good thing when they find it.

If You Travel to Durango:

Ride the train, but get off it. Spend the night camping in an incredibly remote place that you didn’t have to hike too, or hike further in and have the world to yourself.

If you’re there in the spring, go rafting. But if you visit in late summer when the Animas is low, go tubing. Floating from the north end of town to the south in an inner tube is a great way to beat the heat. Ask about tube rental at the raft shops.

Helpful Info: Durango.org

Author Bio: Jack Bohannan is a freelance writer and former resident of Durango now living in the Denver area. Read more of his work at GoAdventureTravel.com

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