By Galen Patterson
Durango rests in the southern Rockies like a beautiful, vibrantly-colored piece of coral in a reef. All roads leading into it run through valleys surrounded by the exquisitely carved mountains of the San Juan Range, just on the edge of the San Juan National Forest.
Western Colorado has such a distinct geography that many people tend to dismiss Durango as another mountain town as they pass through it, but Durango is different. In fact, Durango is downright charming.
I first visited this small town in 2013. I participated in a 5k charity run in the heart of the small town. The cold Rocky Mountain morning air of early spring engulfed me as I struggled to keep my focus on my task at hand. All participants were bathed in Durango’s stunning scenery, running through small parks and old residential areas. At one point, the trail followed a train track situated next to a river. Nature and humankind’s direct transporting methods, paired together as if to marvel at each other’s incredible useful features.
By the end of the run, I was certain of two things. The first being that the oxygen content at that altitude is something I could not have prepared for in my near sea-level home in Los Angeles County, and the second being that I had seen what Durango was in its core, and I was in love.
Several things stand out about Durango:
Buildings adorn the streets in a well-maintained and laid-out manner. It doesn’t take long to move around in the town and that seems to be by early design.
It has many standing historical structures, including the early hotels from the mid-1800s, complete with bullet holes in the bar ceilings from a time when the Old West resembled more of a modern-day Afghanistan.
When looking around the town, you see mountains on every side, as though you had fallen into a bowl of solid rock and snowy peaks. The mountains are extraordinarily beautiful as well, shifting in layers and colors from dark, earthy reds to greyish granite.
Jean Pierre is a must-have in the town. The French bakery is open early, decorated to fit the town like a glove and multi-faceted, giving patrons anything they want from fresh baguettes and croissants to fine dining with an old, rustic charm. I personally make a point of visiting JP’s every time I am in town.
On the more practical side of cuisine, Grassburger looks like your average high-quality hamburger joint, but delivers so much more in its options. It serves only grass-fed beef, complete with a variety of organic and locally-sourced produce options, while offering so much more. My soul is that of a ravenous carnivore, and Grassburger has won a place at the top of my hamburger-loving heart.
It’s Not Boring
Durango is a bastion of culture in the region. It is the cross between old America and new America. Old, historic buildings are inhabited by cutting edge technology and dining experiences. More than that, its proximity to other wonders is perfect.
If vacationing to Durango, you can take a short drive to Mesa Verde National Park to see incredible cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi. Or you can drive an hour in the opposite direction to Pagosa Springs and relax in the natural hot springs located (with easy access) on a bank of the Colorado River.
Or if that isn’t enough, you can hop on the old train to Silverton, CO for more historic buildings and Old Western scenery.
Durango is well aware of its touristic appeal. It is jam-packed full of good food and scenery, but you have to remember that old American saying “you pay for what you get.”