Some places make you feel at peace instantly, like you belong there. Colorado mountains, Durango area where we spent a week in July, felt like that to me. Maybe becasue the area is really similar to the Taiga, Siberian forests that I grew up nearby. The natural beautiy, the significance of the mountains, the remoteness and unhurried pace of life – it all spoke to me. I can’t wait to go back, maybe in the winter. I know the palce will be magical covered in snow.
We tried our best to balance out exploring the area and relaxing and just taking in the beauty around us. We chose one activity per day with enough time to spend at the cabin in the evening, sitting with a book by the creek, fishing, or napping in the hammock.
A creek near the cabin where we stayed
“Our” bridge leading the VRBO cabin
All of the activities we did turned out to be what we expected them to be and more: unique, diverse, and engaging. Here is what we did:
Durango Steam Train
We chose an excursion to Cascade Canyon and back which is a two-hour round trip. It was just long enough to admire the breath-taking views of the Animas river from the steep overpass high up in the San Juan Mountains. This is a historic train line built in 1881 to service the mining industry that was booming in the area at that time. The railroad is built along the very edge of a narrow gauge. It was scary but thrilling to look down and see the river far down right below the car windows.
Mesa Verde State Park
Mesa Verde is another must-see. The park was a one-hour drive from our cabin, plus another hour to the Cliff Palace site to which we had purchased tickets at the Visitor Center in Durango a day before. The drive through the park is another breath-taking adventure with the narrow, windy road ascending to 8,500 feet. It’s a challenging drive but also absolutely breath-taking.
The paths leading up to the Cliff Palace and the observation platforms are a bit of a challenge to navigate but doable for 6-year old. I wish the tour included the remote areas of the Palace, deeper into the rock but it is not a safe area because of the deteriorating rock structure. A brief coverage of the history and culture of the Cliff Palace was interesting, but I thought it could have been a bit more substantial. We had planned to stop by the Archeological Museum to explore the history of the area but had to give it up due to a phone job interview I had scheduled.
Vallecito lake was less than 30 minutes away from our cabin so we made the drive twice during the same day. First in the morning, for hiking around the lake. You pay for the entrance to the lake at self-serve booths located all around the lake. I couldn’t get over the fact that nobody was watching if you paid or not – it was up to you to put the money in the envelope at the booth. I imagine they have some park patrol randomly checking permits but we didn’t come across anyone in the uniform.
We hiked at a leisurely pace on the most accessible trail right around the shoreline, stopping for a quick picnic lunch and to dip toes in the freezing water. Vallecito is a mountain lake, and they had snow the week before we arrived, late in June. I don’t think the water temperature ever gets comfortably warm for swimming in the lake. Which didn’t stop these crazy children from jumping in.
“Hiking is overrated”
We rented a boat in the afternoon, when we returned to the lake after lunch. We brought our fishing gear, hoping to catch some fish in the depth of the lake (we hadn’t had much luck in the creek by our cabin). We didn’t catch anything. The time was well-spent still, enjoying the views, the breeze, and hands-on driving.
We booked this horseback riding tour with the company called Over the Hill Outfitters. They were just a few minutes down the road from where we were staying. The tour lasted an hour and went through the mountains that the hourses, amazingly, navigated very confidently. We were given a few instructions before we took off — how to steer the horse, what to look out for, and what to let/ not let the horse do. We learned that horses like to nible on tree leaves — who knew?? Phoebe was given a horse of her own, with a guide leading it. She was comfortable on that big horse by herself going up and down the steepest trails. It was amazing.
The Animas Museum and the Durango Train Station Museum
Both of these museums are compact but full of history. We spent about an hour at each one. The Animas museum is a restored 1905 classroom, full of artifacts about school life of the time period. The kids were impressed with this punishment chart.
They also have an exibit on the history of the Fire department (Durango had several devastating fires, as can be expected for the area located in the middle of the woods), and two original log houses that belonged to first settlers. It was like stepping in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.
D&SNG Museum is dedicated to the history of the area as it relates to the history of the railroad from its early days through the modern period. It has not only vintage train cars, but also automobiles, and even planes, as well as collections of everyday household items, diaramas of the neighboring towns and the train depo.
It was a perfect vacation in every way. If you are thinking of visiting Colorado, I highly recommend the Durango area.