Outdoor Adventure in the Old West: Durango, Colorado

Mountains, rivers and music in an historic Colorado mining town

The Strater Hotel, Durango, CO. Flickr/Jacqueline Poggi
The Strater Hotel, Durango, CO. Flickr/Jacqueline Poggi

Strater Hotel

We don’t have time or energy for biking, but do have a room waiting for us at the historic Strater Hotel, a gorgeous restoration of Victorian era architecture and décor. It’s a damned nice place, and I’m a dirty man with a dirty backpack. The disparity pleases me, and I get a warm, casual greeting from the kid at the desk, as though he approves of how I’m living my life. He’s probably a little jealous of wherever it is I’ve been. The town is full of ski bums working subsistence jobs with their lives on hold just so they can be here, in this place now, biking, kayaking, and drinking beer priced well outside their means.

The Strater Hotel is nearly as old as the town itself, with just as many stories to tell. The hotel was built in 1887 and was the flagship hub for Durango’s community of miners and frontiersmen. During the winter months, many local residents chose to stay at the Strater because it was one of the few well-heated buildings in the area. During Prohibition, someone was secretly brewing in a stile hidden beneath the elevator shaft. John F. Kennedy slept here, possibly in the same bed we’re about to.

The lobby is walnut burl and wingback chairs, intricate stained glass and undulating patterns of wallpaper. Bellmen dress appropriately to the time period, and the girl waiting tables in the adjoining saloon is scantily dressed as a barmaid. From the looks of things, she’s killing it on tips.

Lobby of the Strater Hotel, Durango, CO. Flickr/Alan English
Lobby of the Strater Hotel, Durango, CO. Flickr/Alan English

A television is the only element of our room that betrays the anachronism of the 1890’s. It’s great that the hotel has maintained this Old West experience.

We walk up Main Avenue: college kids, locals sitting outside coffee shops, scuzzy rucksack wanderers with guitars in tow, organic farm-to-plate restaurants, and live music performances are everywhere. It’s not yet the weekend, but the place is lit up with summer activity.

A music festival is playing at Buckley Park. People dance in the grass, food trucks circle, and the steel guitar of country music twangs from a stage of performers that look more like an indie rock band than cowboys.

Being ex-locals, we choose to cut over to the river path. The evening is calm on the water as the mayflies hatch and the sun sets. It’s a perfect time for trout, though there are no fly fishermen at the moment. A brown trout caught directly below the stone concaves of Main Avenue Bridge held the state record for a long time.

The Animas River flows under Main Avenue, Durango, CO. Photo by Jack Bohannan
The Animas River flows under Main Avenue, Durango, CO. Photo by Jack Bohannan

As we pass under Main, the swallows swoop low to build their nests below the overpass, and we marvel at the foliage on the opposite bank. Parts of it are so thick and wild it’s hard to believe we’re inside the city limits. The backcountry we just came back from once encompassed the entire township, and parts of it still exist in patches.

The path is a continuous stretch of concrete that extends throughout town and down past the kayak park. It’s a true friend to the commuter cyclist, and a great way to see the city if you’re visiting. Cruiser bikes are available for rental from the many of bike shops.

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