When we realized Moab was not going to work out we immediately got in the car and drove to the nearest wifi hotspot to look for someplace cooler to move to. It needed to be within a days drive home and the temp needed to be under 90. The entire state of Arizona was out, as was most of Utah, so we ended up in Durango, Colorado.
Growing up I spent almost every summer in Colorado. We would stop in Durango to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, go four-wheeling near Ouray, and camp in the Silver Jack Reservoir area. These are some of my fondest childhood memories and probably what sparked my love of the outdoors. We were actually planning to spend this summer vacation in Colorado because I wanted my kids to experience the places I grew up and loved so much. After a visit to Zion National Park earlier in the year we decided we wanted to see more of Utah and changed our plans. We ended up in Durango anyway; just not how we originally envisioned the trip. Go figure.
Although I really wanted to ride the train while we were in Durango, it’s a 3.5 hour ride each way and I did not think the kids would enjoy all that sitting. Particularly since the long drive home was just around the corner. The drive from Durango to Silverton (where the train ends up) is an hour in the car and along a gorgeous stretch of highway. We decided to make a day of it and drove to Silverton.
The Purgatory Resort is known for its skiing in the winter but during the summer they turn the slopes into an adventure playground. It just so happens that Purgatory is on the way to Silverton and they had an alpine slide – the kids love alpine slides. Our first stop of the morning was Purgatory.
I didn’t get any alpine slide pictures but the ride up the mountain was gorgeous. After spending so much time in the heat, I was soaking in the green and the cooler temps. (If you are not familiar with alpine slides you can read about them here.)
Little Mister wanted to take a stab at the hamster ball. I am sure it has a real name but it reminds me of a hamster ball. It looks easy, or so he thought, but he had a hard time staying on his feet. It was really funny to watch.
We left Purgatory around lunchtime and stopped at Andrews Lake for a picnic lunch.
It made for a gorgeous lunch spot and we enjoyed every minute.
Silverton is the cutest town. Gold and silver was discovered in this area in the late 1800s and Silverton was born. The last mine closed in the early 1990s and it is now mostly a destination for tourists. It is along the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. 550) as well as a stop on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Each day three trains visit Silverton and we happened to get there in time to see one arrive and one leave.
While waiting for the train to leave The Husband taught the kids how to skip rocks in the Animas River.
I told the family I was not leaving until I heard the train whistle blow and I held true to my word. As soon as I heard that lovely sound I begrudgingly walked back to the car.
There are waterfalls all along the highway between Durango and Silverton and this particular one was on the right side of the road just after we left Silverton. It was incredible.
On our second day in Durango we took a day trip to Vallecito Lake. The lake is beautiful but we could not find anyplace for the kids to play in the water. We drove around the entire perimeter and could not find a beach or even someplace that was flat enough to set up our chairs for an hour or two. I do not really know how to describe the edge of the lake but it did not appear to be swimming/playing friendly. Maybe this is only a fishing lake? I’ve heard the fishing is incredible though so if you go be sure to bring your poles.
We stayed at the Durango KOA and it is one of the nicest KOAs we have stayed at. Actually, it is probably the nicest KOA we have stayed at. The grounds were absolutely gorgeous and meticulously groomed. They had a very nice pool and the kids enjoyed swimming every afternoon. It’s a little outside of Durango but I would definitely stay here again.
On the way back to Tucson we stopped at Petrified Forest National Park. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the park but since we were driving by we thought we’d stop.
I didn’t realize until we got there that there are two distinct areas in the park. The area north of I-40 is only the Painted Desert and the area south of the 40 has petrified wood. The main entrance to the park is off the 40 and loops through the Painted Desert for 4 – 5 miles before it crosses over the 40. It then continues on for another 20 miles before meeting up with Highway 180. You are not able to enter or exit the park where the road crosses over the 40 so we had to backtrack to get on the highway. So basically, if you are planning to visit Petrified Forest be sure you have time to drive the entire 26 mile scenic drive.
The air was really hazy that day and the colors of the Painted Desert were probably not as vibrant as they usually are. I wish we would have had time to drive through the entire park.
Overall, I consider this trip a success. We visited four national parks, one state park, spent several days in Durango, went swimming, hiking, camping, and most importantly, made some incredible memories as a family.
If you missed the first three legs of the trip here are the links: