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Hi-Yo, Silverton: Seriously Away

By Nicole Lewis
Sunday, June 14, 1998; Page E02


What: A nearly forgotten former Wild West town nestled in a valley 50 miles north of Durango, Colo., with towering mountains as neighbors, an abandoned silver mine for entertainment and not a supermarket in sight.

Why: Silverton is the ideal destination for people who feel the future has crept up too quickly. The town boasts National Historic Landmark status (perhaps explaining the lack of supermarkets) and yet, thanks largely to its geographic isolation, the place has not become a sanitized tourist trap. The main drag, Greene Street, is the only paved road in town and the turn-of-the-century buildings look like the backdrop for a western. The town buzzes nearly every afternoon with people who have taken the 3A-hour railroad ride from Durango. In the evening, a blanket of quiet descends, and a feeling of delicious isolation descends upon the small grid of streets, a sense that no one can find a visitor to Silverton unless that person wants to be found. It's easy to let your mind romanticize what life would have been like as a miner, living next to nature and using its resources as your livelihood. It's particularly lovely to be pondering these thoughts while slipping into sleep at a cozy bed-and-breakfast, with hiking planned for the next day.

Lodging and Dining: There are not many places to lay your head in Silverton, but we loved the Alma House Bed and Breakfast (1-800-267-5336, $50-$90), a Victorian-style home where we secured a comfortable corner room with only five days' notice.

As there are no four-star hotels here, another moderately priced option is the Grand Imperial Hotel (970-387-5527, $69-$150), which features antique decor and private baths.

Forget the three or four bars and cafes that dot the main street -- the real food find is a few steps off Greene in a bar/restaurant called Handlebars (970-387-5395) -- named for the style of mustache. The decor features every type of stuffed beast known in these parts.

The Fine Print: The road from Durango weaves across several enormous mountains including daunting Molas Pass, which checks in at 10,910 feet. The passenger can catch the panoramic views while the driver must keep both eyes on the road, which sometimes dips precariously close to the edge of the mountain. Just when you think there can't possibly be civilization out this way, Silverton appears in a valley below the road. Don't even think about trying to make it back to Durango for an evening to catch the rodeo or see a movie. You don't want to drive this road at night, and the 50 miles drive more like 100.

Oh, Yes: Although the railroad trip and mining tour were tempting, we found the town's real attraction to be its location smack amid the Mount Sneffels Wilderness. We chose a moderately difficult six-mile day hike along the Blue Lakes Trail, about 10 miles outside of town. The ascent to reach the lakes was strenuous, but the scenery was breathtakingly surreal: jagged peaks cutting shards in the distant sky, trout swimming in glass-like lakes, and reams of wildflowers in full purple, yellow and red bloom. It was as if no human being had trod these parts. To test this theory, we checked the sign-in book at the trailhead at around 6 p.m. and indeed, we were the only people to head up to the Blue Lakes that day. A good Park Service map can be ordered in advance of the trip; the trails can be difficult to follow.

How: From Durango, drive north 49 miles on Route 550 or take the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Durango, a 3 1/2-hour ride each way. For tickets, call 970-247-2733. Fares are $49.10 for adults; $24.65 for children ages 5 to 11. America West offers service from all three Washington area airports to Durango, via Phoenix, and is quoting a round-trip fare of $370, with restrictions.

The Bottom Line: Silverton is for the history buff, the person who needs a quiet, scenic place to finish a good book, or the hiker. Save Silverton for the summer or early fall, when the sun shines and the trails are likely to be somewhat visible instead of not at all. For more information, contact the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-752-4494,

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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