It was a treat to sleep in today. We had a reservation on the narrow gauge railroad from Rockwood to Cascade Canyon at 12:15. The drive to Rockwood is about 30 miles and the train boards at 11:45 so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to find the station, park, and get on board. We had breakfast and left the campground around 10:45. It was a beautiful day with clear, blue skies, and temps to reach 88 today. Perfect day for a train ride! We left the campground at 10:45 and took the 45 minute drive to Rockwood Station. We drove on Highway 550 through historic downtown Durango and north up the Million Dollar Highway.
Parts of the Million Dollar Highway that runs from Silverton to Durango can be treacherous along cliffs with sheer drop-offs, but the section from Durango to Rockwood was mild.
About 18 miles north of Durango, we saw the sign for Rockwood and the D & SNGR sign. (Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway).
Because of COVID, the train had to run at lesser capacity. Instead of 42 passengers per car, they were limiting capacity to 20 per car and everyone had to wear a mask throughout the whole trip. They also had shortened the trip to just 2 hours round trip because they couldn’t run at full capacity due to COVID. The train normally runs form Durango to Silverton. The train would now run from Rockwood to Cascade Canyon and back. We arrived at the Rockwood Station at 11:30 for our 12:15 departure.
When we made our reservation, we chose the enclosed car seating in case the weather was bad. We were also allowed to bring a cooler (no alcohol), so we packed a lunch.
We checked in and were told we would be in the last car. Perfect!
While we waited for the “all-aboard” signal, we stood in the shade while listening to someone tell us the history of this 139-year old steam train.
It doesn’t run on coal anymore due to the danger of sparks which could cause a forest fire. It now runs on recycled fuel oil.
This railway has the largest fleet of operational steam engines in the country at seven. It is one of the last narrow gauge railroads. Narrow gauge and narrow passenger cars are easier to bring through the rough mountain terrain.
They’re easier and less expensive to install narrow gauge tracks because its easier to blast out a narrower track on the side of a mountain and they can make sharper turns around mountains.
Durango was founded by the Denver and Rio Grand Railway in 1880 and the railroad arrived in 1881. It is a large part of Durango’s history. The train travels at 18 mph top speed, but the highline part of this trip is done at 5 mph through some narrow passages and around some sharper curves on the edge of a cliff. The train left the station on time to take us through the rugged San Juan National Forest following the Animas River.
It chugged its way along the Animas River at the floor of the canyon for part of the trip. The train whistle sent a message that echoed through the canyon. Black smoke billowed from the locomotive as we climbed 2000 ft. in the canyon.
At other times, we were high up on the ledges far above the river. The river was a clear, beautiful emerald green color.
We chugged slowly through areas of rock that didn’t seem big enough to squeeze through.
I could reach out and touch the rock walls through my open window.
Two areas had waterfalls coming down from higher elevations. This is Silver Falls.
The scenery was spectacular! We could hear the river as it made its way through the canyon.
The train slowed way down as we crossed this trestle with the river raging beneath us.
The train seemed barely able to run on the narrow tracks along some of the cliff areas. Looking down, it was a little scary to see the track running right along the edge of the cliff. Even I got a little nervous to be so close to the edge.
Being in the last car, we could see the rest of the train bend around the mountain.
After an hour, we arrived at Cascade Canyon–our turn-around point.
The conductor backed the train down another side track and we waited for the diesel train to arrive and head up the track a bit, so we could start on our return trip. While we waited for the train to arrive, we ate our lunch. The diesel train waited for us up the tracks. After we headed back out to go, they followed us back down. We never saw or heard the other train.
This small cart followed us the entire way checking the track as we went. This is the other track that we pulled off on to turn around.
We had to stop once so they could check the tracks.
We never had to switch seats or move to the other side of the train because we saw a different view in each direction.
The river crossed under the tracks so we saw the river on either side. There were only 10 of us in our car, so we had plenty of room to move around if we wanted to.
Since we were in the last car, we could also look out the back door to see where we had been.
That really created some interesting views.
We arrived back in Rockwood Station at 2:15 and we were back on the road to Durango by 2:30. We had to make one stop at Walmart for some groceries and a new mouse for the computer. I just wore it out. Back at the campground, we ordered a propane tank to have a campfire tonight. (Remember the fire ban. No open fires.) They delivered it to our campsite before dinner and we were set to go. Auggie and I sat outside on the patio this afternoon until dinner. There was a cool breeze blowing and we enjoyed ourselves in the shade. We had dinner and made plans for tomorrow. After our walk, we sat outside and watched TV enjoying our campfire.
It was a beautiful night to sit outside.