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Rock on! Silverton kicks off summer tourist season with an unusual tradition

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Now that Memorial Day weekend is over, Colorado's summer tourism season is in full swing. 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.

The season kicked off in Silverton the first Saturday of May, when the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad - one of the state's top tourist attractions -- made its initial run from Durango into that high-altitude town, where it was met by an oompah band of townspeople dressed in Victorian garb. But passengers were also greeted by another, only-in-Silverton sight: kids selling rocks by the side of the train tracks. See also: Can Aaron Brill's single lift save Silverton?

Turns out that children have been doing this in Silverton for decades, as a way to make pocket change. According to local lore, anyone under the age of thirteen can sell rocks without a permit - although San Juan County Sheriff Sue Kurtz doesn't think anyone has ever been busted for over-age rock selling.

"They've done that for as long as I can remember," Kurtz says of the pint-sized pebble-peddlers. "I suppose it started because in long-ago days, many of them were the children of miners who were digging for rocks."

And now those children are mining for tourism dollars. But they're "only allowed to sell rocks, nothing else," the sheriff cautions.

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