Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys


The D&SNG runs 45.2 miles between Durango and Silverton Colorado.  This railroad has been federally designated as a National Historic Landmark and also designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This route opened in 1882 to transport silver and gold ore that was mined in the San Juan Mountains.  It was an extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad that ran from Antonito, Colorado to Durango.

In 1870, William Jackson Palmer, a Union General during the Civil War, came to Denver.  After the Civil War Palmer managed to construction of the Kansas Pacific Railway into Denver.  Shortly after arriving to Denver, he began planning to build railroad south from Denver to El Paso, Texas.  In 1871, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway (D&RGW) began to lay rails.  The decision was made to us 3ft (914mm) narrow gauge lines because of the mountainous terrain and the less expensive cost of construction. (narrow-gauge is the distance between the inside edge of the rails).  In July of 1881, the D&RGW reach Durango and began building the final 45-miles along the Animas River to Silverton.  The first 18 miles to Rockwood were complete by November of 1881.  The remainder of the route ran through the narrow Animas Canyon and its extremely steep granite walls.  The crews, made up mostly of Chinese and Irish immigrants, blasted the cliffs off which left a narrow level surface to lay track on.  They reached Silverton on July 10.1882.

During the Depression and the end of free coinage of silver the Silverton line struggled.  By the middle of the 1900’s revenues dwindled due to the declining of mining, competition from trucking, and passenger ridership.  Also, there were annual snowslides and several major floods the were a challenge for the railroad.

After World War II, nationwide tourism grew and the Durango-Silverton line benefited.  Exposure for the line was boosted by Hollywood as many studios filmed along the route.  On June 24, 1947 the railroad created a summer-time only train service.  The railroad decked out a locomotive and four coaches, with a colorful paint scheme and launch “The Painted Train”.

Launching. A public promotion a new era of tourism began that continues today.

The Durango – Silverton Train is world famous and one of the most popular heritage railroads in North America.   The train journeys along the rushing waters of the Animas River through the peaks of the San Juan Mountains to the historic mining town of Silverton.

At the Durango station you can visit the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum – it is 12,000 square feet of amazing STUFF!!  You will want to plan enough time to take a stroll.

Many of us baby boomers have memories of traveling on trains during on childhoods.  My family would travel by train from Vancouver, Washington to Helena, Montana many times.  Night would fall and the “clackity – clack” of the rail road track would sing you to sleep.

“Nowhere can I think so happily as in a train.”         A. A. Milne

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