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Silverton Colorado: A real western town

Yes, the tourists have found it. But not many tourists, and the town is still small, quaint, and charming. It gets crowded for a couple of hours when the tourist train pulls in, and then reverts back to quiet and sleepy.
This tiny town of just over 500 residents was once a bustling silver and gold mining outpost. It kept enough of its history and architecture to be designated as a National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District.

Silverton is a perfect made-for-movies town and in fact several movies were shot on location, including Ticket to Tomahawk, Great Day in the Morning, Run for Cover, Night Passage, Across the Wide Missouri and Maverick Queen. Today, it's mainly the tourists who ride the stage coach that travels right down the packed dirt road of the town.

Arrive by Train or Car

Silverton is no one's idea of an easily reached town, and the long frigid winters make this a summer destination. The Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge train is a popular method of reaching the town, tucked away in the middle of the mountains. Drivers can also go up and over the San Juan mountains on the San Juan Skyway ( Highway 550), but even in summer the snowflakes can fall.

If you arrive by railroad, you'll have enough time to stroll the town, explore the shops, enjoy a meal (of course, the whole train will be doing that with you). If you arrive on your own, you'll much more time to explore the area, or even stay overnight in one of several hotels. And you'll drive along the breath-taking San Juan Skyway.

You will probably read that you can make the entire San Juan loop in 6 or 8 hours. Don't believe it. You'd have to drive quite fast and not stop to enjoy any of the charming towns along the way. Instead consider making it a loop over several days. Or a day trip from Durango to Silverton.

Exploring Silverton

On your way into town, stop at the Visitors Center and pick up the guide that contains a house by house historical walking tour.

Take a stagecoach ride down one of the main streets, walk the dirt streets or along the wooden sidewalk of the building dating back to the 1800s. Wall plaques on the buildings indicate the date constructed.

If you time your visit Silverton also offers a staged gunfight on 13th and Blair Street, Thursday - Saturday.

Blair Street was once bordello central with saloons and girls eager to show miners a good time, 34 drinking and bawdy houses at its zenith. Unlike towns with urban renewal, many of the old buildings still stand, although the tenants have changed.

For another view of history, the San Juan County Historical Museum and Mining Heritage Center is next to the courthouse.

Stop by the Train Store with its surprisingly large collection of train-related items.

There's also hiking but note the altitude is over 9,000 feet and unless you’re acclimated you’ll quickly run out of breath.

For real exploration, a four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary, but that opens up the surrounding areas and their ghost towns and a tour of the Old Hundred Mine a few miles north.

© 2011