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Silverton, Colorado

Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, Silverton Colorado is impressive when you first see it. Come by way of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gage Railway for some of the best scenery. You'll go through canyons and mountains, and the sheer drops to the river below are breathtaking. Unfortunately, the train stops in Silverton for just a couple hours before returning to Durango.

It may be better to come by car, either from Durango on Highway 550, or from Ouray on the same highway. The latter stretch is called the "Million Dollar Highway," and if you do come that way, you might want to stop in Ouray to use the large hot springs pools. Once in Silverton, don't just drive down the old-west main street. Continue on up to the ghost town of Animas Forks for a few photos. Then return to town and stay a while. In what other town can you see a gunfight in the streets, camp three blocks from downtown, and look up to see snow-capped mountains in all directions in June?

We're in our room at the historic Silverton Hostel as I write this. If you are unfamiliar with them, a hostel is a place where you rent a bed for the night. This is a great idea for a single person who likes to meet other adventurers and travelers, but you share a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The Silverton Hostel is a cross between a run-down hotel and rooming house, with beds, private rooms like the one we have, and even space to pitch a tent in the backyard if you're really on a budget.

At the front desk a sign says to pick a room - the keys are in the doors. Use the phone at the desk to call to find someone to pay, or you can pay when you see the manager later in the day. If you miss the manager, there's an envelope on the back of the door in each room, where you can just leave your money.

We found the manager, which was good, because she told us that wireless internet was available now. It saved us a trip to the Avalanche Cafe - although we'll visit there in the morning for excellent green-chili omelets. Checking in simply meant signing the credit card slip - no other paperwork. We cooked some food in the kitchen and met a young man who had recently traveled through Ecuador, where my wife is from.

In the afternoon we watched a gun fight/show in the streets. Dancing at the Bent Elbow Saloon is the plan for tonight, followed by whatever other bar has live music. When we were here previously we danced to the music of "Too Little O2," a local group whose original music ranged from Greek dance tunes to reggae to rock and more. Locals and outsiders all had a great time. Being isolated and at 9300 feet seems to help people get along better.

Things To Do And See Around Silverton

Want big wilderness? If so, this is the place for you. The Weminuche Wilderness Area (to the east and south) is the largest in Colorado, with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and several "fourteeners," (mountains over 14,000 feet) that can be climbed without equipment. A large part of the area is above timberline, and it is full of alpine lakes, waterfalls and wildlife.

The twenty-three mile drive to Ouray, at the northern end of the "Million Dollar Highway," is an adventure, with drops of hundreds of feet sometimes just inches from the edge of the road. The scenery is incredible, but should be described to the driver.

You can take Jeep tours that start in Silverton and head up to the high tundra, as well as to ghost towns and old mines. Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle yourself if you feel comfortable with rough roads and large drops a foot away from the vehicle. I can recommend the amazing "Alpine Loop," but at the moment (mid-June) there may still be snow on some of the many passes you'll cross.

In the evening you can sing karaoke at the Silverton Brewery and Bar, (usually on Friday nights, in any case - but schedules here are unpredictable). Last night the songs ranged from Rocky Horror Picture Show music to country, hard rock and Selena. The latter was sung by my wife in Spanish. Maybe that $3 margarita was stronger than we thought.


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