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Destination: Durango

It just might be that Durango and the surrounding areas are the ultimate combination of exceptional trails and great music. I suppose everything is up for debate, but I'll put my money squarely on Durango, Colorado.

As far as trails go, try to beat this scenery:

Perins Peak overlooks the town, and is one of the many great hikes right out of town for the trail aficionado. Yup, you can walk right out of a local breakfast spot and in a few hours be at the top without ever touching a car.

As an Eastern-based hiker of the White Mountains of New Hampshire who visit Durango frequently, I'll offer a few get-started tips. While the terrain won't be difficult, the altitude just might knock you back a little. Some years I'll be able to get hiking in the high country (10,000 feet and above) without trouble, and others I'll need a few days to acclimate. I recommend a few hikes around town for a day or two to get used to the altitude. The second thing that's totally different from elsewhere is the intensity of the sun. That affects you in two ways: you'll need sunscreen, and you have to watch for overheating. Sunscreen is self-explanatory, but heat stroke is nothing to scoff at. I find I need four times the water for a four-hour excursion than I do back east. One liter might last me all day in New Hampshire, one gallon is a bare minimum at altitude in the sun. I have never gotten back to the car with any water left in the pack. Wear a light hat, light clothes, and as much water as you can carry.

That said, there are some local in-town trails you can do to help get acclimated. Horse Gulch and the connected Carbon Junction are a sweet way to stretch legs after traveling and get the lungs working. Horse Gulch is located right at the end of East 3rd street, a short walk from main street downtown. The views of the town are superb, and it's a walk that you can extend for hours of desired. Keep in mind that most in-town trails are designed and built for mountain bikers, so while you can walk them, make sure to keep an eye out for the bikers. Step aside and say hello as they pass; everyone is smiling when they're riding!

Getting air at Horse Gulch

As far as mountain biking goes, the trails are extensive. You can ride the easier ones like Horse Gulch, or challenge yourself a bit more with the Ned Overend Bike Park, named after local world champion hero, Ned Overend. If you're really daring, go for the scary Hogsback Mountain. I have yet to see anything that dispels the notion that Durango is the mountain bike capital of the world. The trails are endless.

Hiking up the legendary Hogsback: one slip and it's a long tumble

Head out of town just a little, and the possibilities are endless. There's the extremely gorgeous Engineer Mountain, certainly one of the most-photographed in all of Colorado:

On this trail network, you'll see plenty of hikers and mountain bikers. Also close to town is the beautiful (and flat, if you stay in the meadow) Junction Creek.

Falls Creek, a five minute drive out of town.

The Colorado trail is an exceptional long-distance trail, starting in Durango and heading all the way to Denver. We have met hikers near the end of their hike, having been out on the trail for 30+ days. The start of the trail is close to town, and a lovely acclimation hike as well, until the elevation kicks in. It goes over some high spots, one being off highway 550 at Molas Pass up towards Silverton, and that'll be around 10,000 feet. Fortunately, in the Durango area, the trail stays at a smooth elevation gain for a few miles, so you can get some miles in without too much effort. Over in the La Platas, though, there is some exceptional scenery along the trail. Here. to get to the trail from a road, it requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle over rough dirt roads. Many trails up high are like this: you can still get to them without 4 wheel drive, but you'll spend a few miles on dirt roads to access them. It's worth the effort, even if you have to score a ride to the trailhead by renting a vehicle.

The views along the trail to Taylor Lake from the top of the canyon. See the little hikers on the trail on the bottom left?

If you head out of town to the north, Silverton has some spectacular hiking, as well as some fascinating mining remnants. Hiking to mining sites and ghost towns is another rewarding way to get out.

The Eureka mine, just north of town.

To the west of Durango, there's Mesa Verde National Park, with a great walk for young kids, the Knife Edge (below). The scenery is spectacular, and it's all of 2 miles, out and back, and almost dead flat.

There are simply too many trails to mention here, which is why there are so many guide books to the area. Hiking or mountain biking, there's no topping it.

As for the music, you won't get far wandering down Main Avenue in the evening without some excellent tunes spilling on to the sidewalk. From ragtime piano at the Diamond Belle at one end to a variety of Indy or old-time up at Ernie's 11th St., there's something going on. As you're out West, I suppose there's no way to start without mentioning the Bar D Wranglers and their chuckwagon. Straight out of the Cowboy music tradition, the Wranglers mix barbecue with music in the way exists nowhere else but out west. You'll sit back to a simple cookout-style dinner and be entertained in the old-school campfire tradition: cowboy tunes, harmony singing, and really corny jokes.

Sitting at the tables while enjoying the show at the Bar D Chuckwagon, and a sampler of cowboy wackiness:

One band in particular that's based in Durango but is currently touring nationally to great success is the Stillhouse Junkies, and you might just be lucky enough to catch them in town.

For the bluegrass/jam band fan, there's Durango-based Liver Down The River, and you'll find them in town occasionally, but they also play all over Colorado.

It's easy to find the old-time band, Six Dollar String Band, or at least parts of it, playing most every weekend somewhere in the area. Their style is the that of the original purpose of old-time, keep the town dancing:

Showing the roots of punk rock with this old classic from the moonshiner era:

You might also find the Indy stylings of the Robin Davis Duo at one of several spots on any given weekend.

As a final entry in our sampler, there's the modern acoustic string band, Tone Dog:

Up north towards Purgatory resort, The Nugget always has something cooking.

This could go on forever...but for the true tunes and trails fan, it's worth a trip to Durango, just don't make it too short, there's way too much to see and hear.


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