Hiking toward Heaven: Durango, Colorado.
WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
Pics from a jeep tour and a hike around Durango.
High water and river play – best snowmelt runoff in 25 years.
Best places to visit in Durango.
How Olga Little saved 17 miners.
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Durango is in southwest Colorado, just over the border with New Mexico. Just a 4-hour drive from Albuquerque, the town is bustling in summer when the famous tourist train runs from Durango through the mountains to Silverton. Silver and gold and other metals were discovered in the mountains in the 1860s.
The San Juan mountains dominate the skyline, and in winter skiers flock to Purgatory, the old name for the ski resort north of Durango. Purgatory was still open for skiing in early May, the latest ever. This past winter was a record year for snow and followed a drought and very poor snowfall a year ago. Here we are in June 2019, and the mountains still sparkle with a lot of unmelted snow.
Durango is a town of variety. Long cold winters, but glorious summers. A magnificent river, the Animas, runs through the middle of town while only a mile away kayaks compete against each other in Smelter rapids during the spring runoff. Magnificent old hotels such as the Strater line Main street – a long street where most of the restaurants and tourist shops exist.
Wealthy folks live here — and homeless people. Business types with their leather satchels, and lanky locals jogging along the river front. But a pervading sense that people love the outdoors – skiing in winter and hiking in summer or running the river in rafts and kayaks.
I wanted to see the spring runoff, which was supposed to be huge, and we beelined to Smelter rapids soon after we hit town. The flow was 4,500 cubic feet per minute, and that was impressive. Two days later it rose to 5,500 and the rapids had to be class 4. I was told if they became class 5 they would stop the raft tours – too dangerous. One guy told me the river could rise to 7,000 or even 8,000 cubic feet per minute because the snowmelt would continue throughout June and into July.
We took a jeep tour into La Plata Canyon. The name means silver in Spanish. We couldn’t go all the way to Kennebec pass, the high point, because the road was blocked by an avalanche of snow. But still the waterfalls and snow and mountain views were stunning.
The guide told us a story about Olga Little, who led a team of 20 burros carrying food and other supplies up to the miners in La Plata (most working at 11,000 ft), and then hauled a load of silver and gold ore down to the smelters in Durango. She was only 5’4” and 138 lbs. More on Olga below.
One afternoon we hiked along Junction Creek, which was also brimming with rushing water. The trailhead is only 3 miles from downtown. The trail is part of the Colorado Trail (CT) which you can take all the way to Denver! We hiked to the bridge — 7 miles round trip.
We also discovered Trimble Hot Springs in the northern part of town. A beautiful site but we didn’t have our swimsuits.
I would highly recommend a trip to Durango for my Albuquerque readers SOON, as right now the high water slashing through the rivers is a rare sight.
POST-SCRIPT 1: I love watching waves at the ocean and rapids in a river. Below is a video of what I’m guessing is a class 4 rapid in Smelter rapids while we were there. The sound of the rushing water almost feels like you’re in a raft.
POST-SCRIPT 2: In Olga’s most famous story, this small, whipcord strong woman, 29 years old, saved 17 men at the Neglected Mine in winter 1912. There was 10 feet of snow on the ground, and men and burros had only oatmeal to eat. She needed to get them to safety at Transfer Camp, seven miles away. Olga tied everyone together, and she and her eight burros packed the trail as the freezing miners, not used to the winter weather Olga endured daily, trudged along in a snowstorm. They left at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at 11 p.m. Some with frostbite. All alive.
During that long, brutal 30-degrees-below-zero day, she went back and forth, encouraging the men, keeping them on their feet, moving them forward to safety. Olga Little saved their lives in dangerous terrain.
PS: I write blogs about three topics: Inspiration and Hope, and Science and Energy, and Health and Hiking.
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