The Amtrak train from here to Glenwood Springs must be one of Dante's levels of hell. Making the eight-hour trek (sorry -- six, on a good day) is akin to watching paint dry. But there's still a certain romance to rail travel that keeps me searching, whether on the Ski Train to Winter Park or the Crescent from Manhattan to Jackson, Mississippi, hoping for that magical Katharine Hepburn-esque experience. So far, none has embodied it better than the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Even C.W. McCall, of "Convoy" fame, wrote one of his Colorado ditties about it. It begins:
She was born one mornin' on a San Juan summer
Back in eighteen and eighty and one
She was a beautiful daughter of the D and R G
And she weighed about a thousand ton
Well, it's a-forty-five mile through the Animas canyon
So they set her on the narra gauge
She drank a whole lot a water
And she ate a lot of coal
And they called her the Silverton (Silverton train)
Beginning Thursday, August 21, that same train line will celebrate the fifth annual Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railfest and honor the 100th anniversary of the first Western, The Great Train Robbery (not the 1979 Sean Connery version). Forty bucks gets you into the festivities -- Single Action Shooting Society Invitation Shootout, Happy Rails Reception, museum and train-yard tours, parade, tour of eight homes with garden-gauge lines -- but rides on each of six celebrity trains costs extra. The highlight is the $175 excursion on the Presidential Special, where the Durango Kid (assisted by the Single Action Shooting Society) will reenact his famous heist. But don't worry -- it's all for a good cause. The money he picks from your pockets (you can buy gold dollars at the depot before departing) goes to the Roy Rogers Happy Trails Children's Foundation.
"We're excited about having visiting locomotives," says the railroad's Kristi Nelson Cohen. "There's an 1875 wood-burning locomotive, the oldest operating of its type. It looks like it came right out of the movies -- in fact, Warner Brothers owned it in the '60s and '70s."