Your journey begins in Durango, gateway to Southwestern Colorado. After exploring Durango and riding the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, on Day Two, you’ll be passing through the La Plata Mountains headed toward Ignacio, home of the Southern Ute Cultural Center. It may be best to take a lunch with you, as there are few selections between Durango and your Day Two destination. From Ignacio, it’s on to Arboles, where you will need to take a side trip to the Chimney Rock National Monument, a seven square mile preserve with 200 ancient homes and ceremonial structures. Then, it’s on to Archuleta County Roads 500 and 551, which skirts Navajo State Park, with flat-topped buttes and canyons. Passing into New Mexico, the road becomes Rio Arriba County Road toward Dulce, home of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. After an overnight in Dulce, the route ends in Chama on US 64. Here you can ride the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad.
Riding the train that brought over $300 million in gold and silver down from the San Juan mountains is a must do. You’ll see completely different scenery than you will driving the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. Constructed in 1881, the line parallels the Million Dollar Highway completed in 1887. Hauling of precious metals continued until 1893, when the bottom dropped out of silver prices. After facing various challenges for nearly 40 years, Hollywood discovered Durango and the railroad, showcasing the train in movies including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
To walk among 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings, you’ll need to take a side trip off the Byway to Chimney Rock National Monument. Definitely make the trip. Seven square miles of southwestern landscape surround the ancient settlement, that includes a Great Kiva, a Pit House, a Multi-Family Dwelling and a Chacoan style Great House Pueblo. Explore the visitor cabin and take a guided tour of the area. At 7,000 feet above sea level, a mile and a half hike rewards you with astounding 360 degree views, with the San Juan National Forest splaying out at your feet.
A bit outside of Durango, in the opposite direction from the remainder of your trip, the Southern Ute Cultural Center illustrates exceptional architecture that incorporates cultural symbolism and a connection to the land. Inside, memories and history celebrate the Ute people. You’ll first encounter plants important to native subsistence. Once inside, you’ll be awed by Ponderosa pines rising 60 feet like a tipi, ending in a Circle of Life glass ceiling. The Permanent Gallery chronicles the story of the Ute people from prehistoric times to today. Photographic panels, audio-visual presentations, interactive electronics and life-size replicas enhance six themes in Ute life.
Take a ride on a railroad that travels on a route through “off the grid” wilderness where no automobile can travel. Moving at a top speed of 12 miles an hour, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy views into canyons and over ridges, aspen groves, wildflowers and plentiful wildlife. As you travel, you can move around the train to take in the majestic views ahead. Midway through the trip, enjoy a hot meal while you watch the scenery pass by and listen to the on-board docents explain the geology and history of the area.
Located in the North Main District, the Animas Museum, delivers an overview of the area’s Native Americans, Old West, fires, railroads, transportation and lifeways. The Joy Family Cabin and Peterson House which contrasts life in 1876 with life in the 1930s are also part of the campus.