Summer playground in Durango

It’s no secret that Durango, Colo. is a winter playground, with fun activities swirling from sunup to well past sundown.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a coal-fired locomotive that connects the two mining towns. On the Highline Shelf the train rides a shelf blasted from the mountainside, 400 feet above the Animas River. (SOURCE: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad)

The same can be said for the picturesque southwestern Colorado city during the summer, as well.

First, of course, are the glorious mountains that surround the town in a never-ending spectacle, providing ample hiking within minutes of downtown.

Several offer the opportunity for some bird’s-eye viewing coupled with some soul-cleansing exercise.

The trail from Junction Creek to Gudy’s Rest, four miles outside town, marks the southern end of the 486-mile Colorado Trail and is a relatively easy eight-mile round trip that casually meanders alongside the creek for the first 2½ miles. At that point at a wooden footbridge, the trail begins to climb to Gudy’s Rest, honoring Gudy Gaskill, known as the Mother of the Colorado Trail. Views opening up to the town below and the San Juan Mountains make the excursion a winner, said Theresa Blake Graven, spokeswoman for the Durango Tourism Department.

About 1½ miles from town, Overend Mountain Park is a 300-acre outdoor playground with challenging mountain bike trails, hiking and trail running.

At the James Ranch and Harvest Grill & Greens a few miles north of Durango, farm-to-table dining offers the freshest ingredients grown or produced on site. (SOURCE: The James Ranch)

The classic Hogsback Ridge, which dominates the western skyline, is a short but steep haul that will test the mettle of most hikers, while the Horse Gulch Gulch/Telegraph Hill trail system fills a 1,000-acre open space area with mountain biking to introduce the newbie and test the veteran.

After all that exercise, there’s nothing like a healthy bite to eat.

At the James Ranch and Harvest Grill & Greens a few miles north of the town, farm-to-table means just that as meats, cheese and veggies harvested or produced on the James Ranch have used organic, sustainable, grass-based practices for more than 50 years, Blake said. The Grill & Greens dishes up a variety of sandwiches, burgers and salads.

The annual Muck & Mire Mud Run on Aug. 5 at Purgatory Resort is a 5-kilometer race unlike any other as participants slip, slide, climb and negotiate obstacles on their way to the finish. (SOURCE: Purgatory Resort / Scott Smith)

Of course, in Durango, it’s hard to avoid the nearby Purgatory Resort, and this year the ski area is playing host to the delightfully dirty Muck & Mire Mud Run on Aug. 5.

The 5-kilometer event is not so much a race as it is a test of survival, with more than 20 obstacles to negotiate, including mud pits, climbing walls, a giant Slip ‘N Slide and hay bales, all the while dealing with oozing, gooey mud squishing from sodden sneakers.

For a more sedate pastime, visiting the 12,000-square-foot Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is a trip down memory lane and offers education for the younger set.

The museum was created in 1998 through the use of eight stalls from the rebuilt, 15-stall roundhouse built in 1989 to replace the one destroyed by fire earlier that year. The building houses antique trucks, tractors, an original Indian motorcycle and, of course, vintage, full-size steam locomotives, coaches and an 800-square-foot model train layout.

One of the most popular displays is the baggage car used in the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which is now a movie theater.

Finally, while river rafting the Rio Grande is a seasonal affair that more or less dries up by mid- to late summer, taking a ride on the Animas River can be enjoyed into the fall.

While the ride may not rival the famed Taos Box for its extended, hair-curling whitewater run, knowledgeable guides point out odd and interesting features of the town, including remnants of a vicious flash flood more than 100 years ago that raised the river tenfold. It wiped out all but one bridge and the point where uranium was mined. Officials covered it over and turned it into a dog park.

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