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Travel Notes

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by Linda Strait

Durango, Colo., a town of frontier character and rugged scenery, is a "must see" for any vacation to the Southwest.

Durango got its start from the railroad, and the railroad remains one of its main attractions. The Denver & Rio Grande paid $500 for 160 acres on the Animas River back in 1880, establishing Durango as a trade center for miners. A 47-mile narrow-gauge railroad carried supplies to the mines and brought back gold and silver ore.

From May to October, you can relive the path of the miners with a train ride through narrow gorges and pine forests along the Animas River Canyon. The historic steam engines deliver you to the old mining town of Silverton, where you have a two-hour layover before the return trip.

A popular day trip from Durango is Mesa Verde National Park. The centuries-old Anasazi cliff dwellings were discovered by cowboys looking for lost cattle in a snowstorm in 1888. Mesa Verde National Park is the first national park established to preserve archaeological treasures, and it has been declared a world cultural heritage site.

Summer visitors are treated to Durango's numerous mountain-bike trails. Durango is the hometown of six-time U. S. National Champion Ned Overend. The Iron Horse Classic on Memorial Day weekend combines mountain biking events with a 47-mile race from Durango to Silverton over a 10,910-foot mountain pass.

Fly fisherman can find brook, rainbow, an cutthroat trout, as well as pike and kokanee salmon.

Whitewater rafters, canoers and kayakers will find Class IV and V rapids in the spring, as well as calmer options for beginners.

Throughout the year, Durango hosts music, art and craft festivals, and has a fine collection of art galleries.

Winter visitors can visit Purgatory ski resort just 25 miles north of Durango for downhill skiing. Cross-country skiing, horse-drawn sleigh or dogsled rides are also available.

Accommodations in Durango include the two historic hotels in the Main Street area The General Palmer, and the Strater. Both date back to the 19th century. The Strater is home to the Diamond Belle saloon. Louis L'amour wrote several books in a suite he kept at the Strater.

The Tamaron Hilton Resort and Conference Center is well known with its championship golf course, extensive facilities, and variety of accommodations.

Cozy bed and breakfast inns are also available throughout the Durango area.

Also, the Tall Timber is one of the best-kept secrets in luxury travel. It is a world-class, five-star resort in the middle of a rugged mountain wilderness.

There are no telephones, televisions, cars, roads or crowds. Guests are treated to lavish hospitality from attentive staff who address them by name throughout their stay. The 280-acre resort is limited to only 30 guests at one time, who have at their disposal a golf course, tennis court, three outdoor whirlpools and a lap pool with variable current.

Ten widely separated guest units feature two-story stone fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and wonderful views.

Sumptuous gourmet meals are prepared by graduates of the finest culinary institutions. Each family, or couple, dines at their own reserved table with a bay-window view of the river valley.

There are no scheduled activities, but many choices are available to guests, including guided hikes and horseback rides, fly fishing, helicopter rides for shopping or skiing, or private, lakeside picnics.

There is also an extensive library on the property, containing first edition autographed books by notable guests.

A week of this luxury begins at $1,700 per person, double occupancy. That includes the narrow-gauge train or jet helicopter round-trip from Durango, swimming, golfing, tennis, hiking, fishing, fitness facilities, three meals a day and even embroidered bathrobes.

Restaurants in Durango are numerous and varied. The Red Snapper serves fresh seafood, home-baked breads and desserts and a lavish salad bar. The Barley Exchange is a cellar beer garden featuring 140 microbrews.

For a real Western flavor, try Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers, an old-fashioned cookout and Western stage show under the stars.

(Linda Strait is president of House of Travel Inc., a full-service travel agency in Springfield.)

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