Turkey Run 2: So Cal to Durango to Seattle
Breakage, peril and airborne malice
Somewhere west of Gallup a house fell on my car. Part of a house, actually, an upper part. Shingles. If you've never done roofing, let me assure you that asphalt shingles are not small. Each individual shingle is a part of a larger sheet, weighing 20 or 30 lbs. and wholly composed of tar and reinforcing fibers, and impregnated with nasty bits of crushed gravel.
As the wind had been revving up for some fall blustering, I was cautious of the half-house mounted on a trailer going down the 40E, and anticipated a hole to shoot, passing the truck and eliminating the threat of a tall, unstable load. Too late. A bluster peeled about 20 complete shingles into the wind, lofting upwards with the exact trajectory necessary for splashing all over one unhappy Subaru aft of the rapidly defoliating house.
I dodged all but one, the last one, which plastered itself around the splitter on my lower airdam. Nasty gravel gouged through the paint and well into the poly structure, and the tar guaranteed I'd need something stronger than soap to remove it. Sometimes you just get burned. WRX front ends take a lot of abuse, even in OEM form. Fortunately, nothing else had come to airborne intrusion by the time I fell into Durango.
Old Train Running
You can see much of what was Colorado in the 19th and early 20th centuries by driving into any corner of the state. History sticks around. What may be the most poignant historical element in Durango is the Durango Silverton Railroad, a narrow-gauge stream train that still runs from Durango to Silverton, following an incredibly precipitous rail bed that's been around almost as long as the white man in this area. You can walk to breakfast and watch this fire-breathing fixture of iron-bellied history creep through town and bang northward, its whistle crying out to the forgotten associates of its past.
There are so many more pieces of what was to be found. Mines used and forgotten, abandoned cart paths and rail beds lining the faces of mountains and canyons. Ghost towns and the foundations of huge mills, tools, snow shacks. All this Americana stands up for itself, a coffin in a graveyard covered by only the barest trace of earth. Colorado won't let you forget.
For Durango, development has poisoned some good things (as with some of the best nooks of Colorado), but locals won't let the town's charm go for naught. Downtown is as old as it ever was, and a short walk will have you standing on overlooking bluffs, unchanged since a stout pony was the best way to get here.
Ralph and I were going to eat big that night. He insisted we go out for Italian, having found an apropos place. I'd worked for Ralph years back, and we stayed in touch even after he retired to the house in Durango. Lucky guy. Italian both, we can both put away the pasta, so I left it to him to pick our destination knowing it would be worth my time. Several pounds of dinner, a few beers (not for Ralph—he's a vodka man, the pricier the better) and a belt loop later we set out to tour a little.
After a meal like this you have to stretch out, or going to sleep will be akin to wearing a cast-iron stove to bed. We ambled past the old Strator Hotel, a Durango stalwart since 1888, refurbished with some alarmingly perfect woodwork in the tall lobby ceilings. Towns like this, you've got to do a little ambling. Gardenswartz Outdoors is great for its supply of obscure maps of the area; maps that have gotten me stupendously lost and back again. Excellent Mexican joint across the street: It was either Tequila's or Gazpacho, I can't recall. We tripped across the three local rails used by the Durango Silverton R.R. in Durango, nightcapped at a pub I'd found the year previous and then traipsed homeward.
Just Add Wander
I awoke to the steam engine's preaching, pained whistle as it echoed up the Animas Valley. Ralph's place is north of Durango proper, along the Animas River, where the north-south valley has thinned to only a mile wide, and the train takes a few minutes out of Durango to reach it. By then the beastly thing is visible from the kitchen window, the black engine a fount of low-soot coal smoke as it spits northward, six or seven passenger cars in tow. More history, please.
Monday I disembarked from the "Good Ship Ralph House" and rolled north up the 550 to Purgatory. There are a few proper ski/board resorts in southwestern Colorado, Purgatory and Telluride primary amongst them. Unfortunately, some pretty-development wankers with the historical honor of turnips went and bought the Purg a few years back and renamed it Durango Mountain. Genius. They'd worried all the history of Purgatory would get in the way of new customers (because we all know how new customers hate old customers). Whatever it's called, though, it's still a challenging mountain that's worth riding. I only had a day to give, so I made it a long day. Unfortunately for Colorado, it had been another year of lighter than usual fall snow, but temperatures had stayed low enough for snowmaking. Less pow, but suitable wow. The manmade stuff is slick but consistent, and a little hard on the edges of my Nidecker.
Subaru is the official car at Purgatory, to the point of Subaru being a partner in the resort. Their name and logo were everywhere, even on the ski patrols' jackets, yet there was not one Subaru-only parking spot. This seemed an oversight. I wrote a letter to the board of directors upon returning home to notify them.
Tuesday. Ralph and I cruised Durango's deeper crannies, looking into history with a keener eye. We spent a little time in the railroad museum, and I picked up another obscure-by-exact trail map of the area that included some spots west of town that I hadn't tried. There were sooooo many people operating here in the heady silver and gold days, most of their byways are still available for rock crawling or hiking of sorts. Don't let the low-clearance fool you—the WRX is an excellent crawler for a passenger see-dan.
We rolled up to Baker's Bridge, the first crossing of the Animas, built at a pinch-point in the river that's bordered by two rocky shores, and on to some of the fire damage the Durango area suffered that summer. Forest Service bulldozers had been in Ralph and wife Judy's backyard plowing a fire break. The inferno had consumed dozens of homes and not just a few trees, burning for miles to within a hundred feet of Ralph's house. Lots of folks were a lot less lucky by the look of it. Meanwhile, the Subaru had begun making a noise.
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