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A ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

By Mark J. Redmond
September 22, 2008

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SRR) is known as the longest continuingly operated narrow gauge railroad in the country. The D&SRR has been in operation since 1882. Starting out as a ore train that carried passengers the D&SRR is one of the best known narrow gauge railroads in the country. The D&SRR mainly serves as a tourist train running from Durango Colorado through the Sun Juan forest along the Animas River and stopping in the mining town of Silverton Colorado. However they also do passenger stops along the way. Backpackers will take the train to remote areas to hike through the forest and can return along the tracks where the train will pick them up. They also stop at a zip line facility where you can ride among the trees.

Getting there

From Phoenix there are 2 way to get to Durango. One is to take I-17 to Flagstagff then to US89 over to US160. The other you go through Payson to Holbrook then to I-40 and US666, now US481. I took both routes and would say to take the route through Flagstaff. While a bit longer it is faster and there is a bit more scenery as you skirt Monument Valley and you pass right by the Four Corners National Monument. Not a major site but worth a stop if you have never been there. There is also the benefit of seeing Arizona's only coal train which also happens to be Arizona's only electrified railroad. (I am not including the light rail in the Phoenix area). The Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad runs a coal train from the Black Mesa Mine near Kayenta that feeds the Navajo Power Station in Page. It runs along US160 and if you are lucky, and I was, you will get to see this train in action. To find out more about this uniquie railroad click here.


Durango is a wonderful small city. Has all the charm of a old town with many historical buildings still in use today but has all the amenities of a modern city. Lots of hotels to say at and good food too. Other things you can do while in Durango is visit one of the many hot springs in the area. Yes, hot springs. My wife and I went to the Trimble Spa & Natural Hot Springs.


Silverton now lives off tourism. There are no longer any working mines in the area. You can spend the night and take a tour of the One Hundred Gold Mine tour. You spend about 2 1/2 hours in Silverton. Enough time to eat lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area and walk around town.

The Train

Check the web site for times of departure as they run 1 to 3 trains daily depending on the time of year. Also book EARLY! The trains fill fast.
This was my second time on the D&SRR. The first being about 20 years ago. The first thing you notice is the outstanding staff. Cannot say enough about how friendly they are. Unless you have small kids the best way to ride the train is in one of the 2 open air cars. The open air cars give you the best views and it's easy to go from one side of the train to the other. Have your camera ready you will be taking lots of pictures. I took over 300 but posted 30 here. If you ride the open air cars make sure you wear safety glasses or at least sun glasses. You will get cinders all over you. We took the Rio Grande open air car on the way to Silverton and the Silver Meteor back. We preferred the Rio Grande over the Silver Meteor. The seats on the Rio Grande faced out so you did not have to turn your head to see the sites. The Silver Meteor has seats that face forward and a glass top so you can better see the surroundings and has a few more benefits the railings on the car were a bit high and you had to move about to get a good view. Another nice thing about these 2 cars is they are at the rear of the train. This way you can get some nice pictures of the train as it goes around curves. You do have a choice of taking a bus to or from Silverton but don't. It may be 3 1/2 hours but the view changes. Because of all the mountains the sun moving will change the way you see the scenery. Also if you took most of your pictures on the way up you can sit back and really enjoy the beauty of the area.
Riding the train is only part of your experience there. The D&SRR also has a museum and yard tours. It is well worth it to do both. The museum lets you get up close and personal with a couple of the steam engines. You can also look through the windows and watch the maintenance crews at work. While I did not do the yard tour this time, I did it 20 years ago, the price and had not changed. For only $5 with your train ticket you get to see the inner workings of the yard. From where they coal up the trains to where they empty the ash you also can walk through the maintenance shop and see how they keep those great steam engines running.

This is a great quick little vacation. The drive is only 8 - 9 hours long so you can easily do this trip in 5 days or less depending on what else you would like to do.
This is one of those experiences I have to highly recommend. It really is a very very good time.


Click on picture to view larger one. Some pictures may seem a bit washed out. The shadows made getting the right shot hard.

Yes, there is an electric railroad in Arizona. The Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad.

Another shot of the BM & LP on it's way with a load of coal for the Navajo power station.

D&SRR #476 currently out of service. She needs major maintenance so for now she will be a display engine.

A local model railroad club has a layout depicting the D&SRR.

Another picture of the layout.

A little tighter spaces in a narrow gauge caboose.

A view down the hall of a caboose.

There are 2 cabooses on display. This is a view from the copula of one looking towards the other

A GE 50 ton the 'Big Al' getting some service to one of its trucks.

A maintenance worker grinds on a driver counter weight.

#482 getting some much needed maintenance.

#481 coming home.

Just outside of Durango you can see the engine working hard.

A favorite spot for railfanners is this bridge on US 550 north of Durango.

Entering the San Juan forest our engine puffing a lot of smoke.

The Animas River below as we climb up the mountian.

Rounding the bend.

Reflections from the glass windows known as the lost souls following the train.

# 473 blows off some steam.

Some freight cars abandoned on the spot.

Just a great shot of the river and the train.

An employee of the zip line company puts on a display for us.

While taking on water, a couple of backpackers leave the train.

The speeder that follows the train to put out fires.

More steam being released.

You can see here the forces that created the Rockies.

Entering Silverton.

The second train of the day #486 arrives in Silverton.

Moved to Silverton, here is the caboose home I first saw 20 years ago in Durango.

Doing some track maintenance in Silverton.

A close up of some rail that will need replacing.

A waterfall just outside Silverton.

This trestle damaged by floods in the 50's, not used since 1960 still stands.

Back in Durango #11 a GE 75 ton ready to do some switching.

#473 crossing the Animas River in Durango.

Here are a couple of videos too.

#486 arriving in Silverton.

#486 backing up for the return trip to Durango.


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