Durango-Silverton Train Ride

Durango is a small, picturesque town in southwest Colorado and is most noted for being the starting point of one of the few remaining heritage railways, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The city is a train lover's Mecca. Operating continuously since the early 1880s, the D&SNGR is one of a dying breed and a well-preserved echo of America's past. Freight traffic waned in the early 1950s and were it not for an increase in tourist fair it's possible that the railway would today be nothing more than a footnote in history.

With rolling stock, the fleet of vehicles that use a railway, dating back to the 1880s, the D&SNGR offers a locomotive-loving photog a rare chance to capture still in-use titans of a bygone era. For shots outside the train, many places in and around the city of Durango offer unobstructed vantages of the train as it passes by. If you choose to stay in Durango check with your lodging's administrator for a train schedule.

Durango-Silverton train passing through an RV park.

However, nothing beats taking the train. I'd recommend choosing to ride in one of the open air gondola cars if you want to take pictures. A bit of warning, though, if you choose a gondola seat be prepared for rather dramatic changes in temperature. On average Silverton, the destination city, is about 10 degrees cooler than Durango and sometimes those mountain gusts can bring a good bit of chill. Dress in layers.  Also, avoid dressing in white due to the coal-fired nature of these steam locomotives!  Speaking of which, glasses, protective or otherwise, are a good idea.

A very popular train picture is of the D&SNGR at the Highline cliff, with the Animas River down below. If you want a shot of your own try getting a seat in the last gondola car, preferably on the right side. You'll know it's coming when the train decelerates to a crawl as it chugs up the incline leading to the face of the cliff.

Traversing the Highline. 5D, 17-40mm f4.0L (25mm) @f4.0 for 1/1250s

Highline shots have become the train world's equivalent of the ubiquitous male peacock portrait (you know what I'm talking about) or holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have one of your own!

The end of the line is in Silverton. Silverton is a charming old mining town beset by mountains with much of its original early 20th century architecture still being used. The train will pull right up to downtown's Blair Street, before being turned around for the trip back home. You'll have ample opportunity to photograph the train here, but if you're scheduled to make the return trip on the train be quick because Silverton is worth exploring as well. You'll probably want to eat after spending over 3 hours on the train!*

Durango-Silverton Engine No. 482. 5D, 17-40mm f4.0L (19mm) @f6.3 for 1/30s

Thanks to the trained staff (who operate, maintain, and run the trains) and volunteers help keeping this treasure alive, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad gives us all a glimpse of a time otherwise relegated to history books or imagination. We are all richer for their efforts.

-JD

 

*It should be noted that the $9 Frito Pie will not last you the trip back to Durango, unless you intend to spend $18. But that's a lot of Frito Pie.