I’ll stop writing about Durango now.
Well, one more time. Then I’ll stop.
I was lucky enough to be able to take a week and bring my family to Durango, Colorado to relax and to ride some trails. Durango is a favorite spot of mine, and not just because it is a bike town!
Durango is a township that is located in La Plata County in southwest Colorado, about 25 miles from the New Mexico border. It’s near the Four Corners Monument where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah all meet.
This town sits in what is commonly called a “Mediterranean Climate”. That means the weather is just about as good as it can possibly be all year round. Winters average in the 15º range, and Summers are in the 85º range. The winter snows melt fairly early considering Durango’s 6500 foot elevation. Locals tell me trails are ready to ride by mid April, sometimes earlier.
The area was originally settled by the Ute people; an aboriginal tribe which occupied the lands around the Animas River Valley for thousands of years before white settlers pushed them off their land. There is an Ute Mountain Reservation in the plains south and west of town.
Established as a town in 1881 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company, Durango is steeped in old western history. From gold mining and turn of the century architecture to the radioactive tailings that can still be found on old county road 210, mining has fueled the economy here and helped to bring Durango into the 20th century. The uranium used in the Manhattan Project was mined here.
Durango also hosts Fort Lewis College; a four-year liberal arts school that got its start as a Native American boarding school. They still offer free education to qualified Native Americans.
Today, Durango is known as a tourism hotspot with a focus on an outdoor lifestyle. There are about 19,000 Durangoans and they appear to be in love with their remote and isolated mountain trails. They use them for hiking, fishing, climbing, and riding bikes.
Durango’s network of local trails extensive. The documented trails number in the hundreds. They cross the local mountains, wandering in every direction and presenting riders with challenges that range in difficulty from smooth and paved to rocky and steep. There’s something for everyone here. I only got to ride a few of the local trail systems, and they were all amazing.
Twin Buttes, located west of town on highway 160, is a moderate challenge that provides gradual climbs and flowy downhills. The dirt is smooth and the views are spectacular. There are even a few features to ride along the way.
Ned Overend Bike Park borders Durango’s western neighborhood. Ned was a world class mountain bike racing legend in the 80’s and 90’s and he still calls Durango home. He sold a large plot of land to the city – cheap – and it is now a bike park that bears his name. The trail system includes all types and difficulties. Some of the advanced trails are very challenging, and the park contains some great flow.
Horse Gulch and Telegraph are located southwest of town. The trails are longer and require more endurance to ride, since the climbs remove you from the town center a bit more than most. They also contain the Extended Ridge trails. These are listed as double-blacks, and they look like they are very challenging. But the views from the ridge are unparalleled.
Animas Mountain, just north of town, is more of a hiking trail system. Bikes are legal on the trails, but the rocky gnar is pretty tough to navigate and should be reserved for only the most committed riders. Trails there offer a unique vista from the north end of town.
Did I mention Purgatory Resort? Purgatory is the local ski mountain, located about a half hour north of town. In the Summer, they open the lifts to mountain bikers and, while they are fairly small compared to other parks, they have some great trails and a few extremely challenging downhills.
But offroad riding isn’t the only riding in Durango. Durango hosts the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic every Memorial Day weekend. This race pits riders against the Durango Silverton steam train that travels about 50 miles, up 5700 feet, and over two mountain passes. This event draws thousands every year. They hold a road race and also a mountain bike race.
The Animas River runs right through the middle of town and boasts fantastic fishing, rafting, and even has its own town bike path. On the western bank, the town built a skate park that looks like it is well loved by local kids.
Downtown is fun also. Historic Main Avenue is a lively street that is filled with shops and restaurants. The famous turn of the century Strater Hotel is where Louie L’Amour wrote a few of his western pulp novels, and their Diamond Belle Saloon is a classic “old west” bar that has an old piano player and bartenders with garters on their arms.
The beer scene in town is pretty great. With seven craft breweries, including Steamworks, Animas, and Ska, a good pint is never in short supply. They even have a distillery – and they make the best whiskey I have ever tasted.
America has a few mountain biking towns that really stand out among their peers. Brevard, Santa Cruz, Moab, Bend… For my dime, I choose Durango. Its mix of chill lifestyle, great scenery, killer trails, and old west style really hit home for me. I’ve ridden in a lot of places over the years, but this is the only one I could see myself settling down in.