Colorado’s summer tourism season is already gearing up. And no part of the state is more eager to welcome visitors than the remote mountain regions that are finally thawing out after a long, isolated winter. Places like Silverton, for example, where residents will be out in force on Saturday, May 2, when the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad — which has been operating since 1882, and today is one of the state’s top tourist attractions — makes its initial run from Durango into that high-altitude town. There it will be greeted by the Silverton Brass Band, a group in Victorian garb that’s been tooting for the train since 1977, as well as kids selling rocks (only pint-sized salespeople under the age of twelve allowed) to the disembarking passengers. And, with any luck, none of the snow that has put a damper on some previous season openers — but at 9300 feet, you never know.
“I kind of love that first train into Silverton, kicking off the season,” says train manager Gary Keil. But some of the passengers won’t make it all the way to Silverton, he notes: “When the train goes out on Saturday, my guess is there will be a ton of folks backpacking into Chicago Basin to backcountry-ski. I’m always amazed every year at the group who does that.”
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The party actually starts on Friday, May 1, when the D&S throws a party in Durango for the entire town at the depot, complete with a band and hot dogs. “It’s just an opportunity to showcase the railroad to the community and help us kick off the season,” says Keil. "I can remember it happening back when I rode the train as a kid."
There will be other special events through the summer season, including four blues trains that typically sell out, he says, as well as Durango Wine and Rails, two wine-tasting trips presented in partnership with Music in the Mountains. And the Narration program, which features people in historical costume telling tales, will be expanded this year, with special train trips. Several of those characters will be on board on Saturday. And there’s more fun to come: The train just bought the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton. “The ink is almost still wet on the deal,” says Keil. Once it dries, they hope to offer overnight trips from Durango to Silverton.
For a complete schedule and updates on the train, go to durangotrain.com.
And watch for the Silverton Brass Band to toot their horns throughout the summer, starting in late June. The Fourth of July is always a big weekend, with a parade and ice cream social, but the band will perform somewhere on the streets of Silverton every Sunday at 6 p.m.