FAM – October 11-14, 2016

​​Durango FAM

Nineteen bright-eyed (?) RMGA members boarded an Arrow Motorcoach driven by member Ken Stauffer as the morning sun was peeking over the horizon, with the promise of a beautiful day for travel ahead.  Along the way, we passed gorgeous fall foliage and views of hills and snow-dusted mountains, valleys, and plateaus and Colorado’s sun would shine from cloud-patterned brilliant blue skies.  Only in Colorado!!! 

This FAM write-up is different – each attendee has contributed.  Each had a subject assigned for a short report on something or someone that was important to the area we were passing through though a synopsis of their reports is not included in this write-up.  Their thoughts/reactions to what was seen and experienced on this FAM set up by members Carolyn Emanuel and Ed Weising, in cooperation with Durango tourism representatives and suppliers are included below. 

En route, we drove the Million Dollar Highway and we traveled over five passes to get to Durango – Kenosha, Monarch, Red Mountain, Molas Divide and Coal Bank.  The latter three are also part of the 236-mile San Juan Skyway Scenic & Historic Byway (www.byways.org).  Rest stops were clean and easily accessible – lunch was in Gunnison – several places to choose from.

Click here for the commentary that was given to and from Durango

Durango Arrival highlights:  Grace Shepard, Durango Area Tourism Office, enthusiastically welcomed us.  She was joined by Kristi Householder, Durango Friends/Arts - a great welcome! Kristi immediately took us on a Historic Downtown Walking Tour – a wonderful way to get an overview of the town, learn the history and see many of the modern businesses.  Kristi was very knowledgeable and clear, and managed our large group well on a noisy street.  Kristi kept up a good pace, possibly faster than her usual pace because we were expected at the Welcome Center at a specific time.  We might have been better with two guides – a large group like ours moves like an amoeba.  Most of the venues around town are coach accessible.  Street parking on side streets did not seem to be a problem. 

Interesting trivia – did you know that the egg carton was invented in Durango?

Our walking city tour ended at the Welcome Center where we were offered several local foods, beverages from local breweries and winery and information about each including where in town we could purchase these items.  Everyone was helpful, enthusiastic and welcoming.  The schedule was pretty tight here too. 

The group was lodged at three hotels – The General Palmer, The Strater Hotel, and the Best Western Rio Grande Inn - all within a block or two of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Depot and Museum downtown.  Most places are either wheelchair and/or handicapped accessible.  The General Palmer Hotel, built in1898, reflects Durango’s history – William Palmer brought the railroad to Durango and established the town to serve as its rail hub for transportation of the vast minerals to be mined nearby.  The town had water and wood for the train engines.  Coach loading on the street was a little inconvenient – even at 8:00 am.  Since we were there in the fall, air conditioning was not necessary and there is no mention of AC in brochures – you will need to ask if this is a necessity for your tour. 

The Strater Hotel (1887) is a Victorian gem and has the world’s largest collection of American Victorian walnut antiques throughout the hotel.  Our closing dinner was held at the Mahogany Grille in the Strater – the food was excellent!  There is also an old West saloon – Diamond Belle – which is a pretty hopping place after dark.

The Best Western Rio Grande Inn was very comfortable and only one block further from the train station.  It is a good place for families and has a swimming pool in the center.  There are no stairs – ramp up to the elevator level, also they have a hot tub and fitness room, and a late “happy hour”.  A complementary 24-hour guest laundry, soap included, is also available.  Obviously not historic. 

There are other hotels in Durango - across the street from the Best Western Rio Grande is the Rochester (1892) and they also operate Leland House (1927).  We did not receive a report on either of these hotels. 

Local foods, besides those offered at the Welcome Center, include fruit jams, Jalapeno jelly, cheese and meats.  There are several local craft beers and brew pubs. 

Our time in Durango took us to Toh-Atin Native American Art Gallery, featuring Navajo rugs and blankets, some antique, some current – many with well-known Navajo weaver’s names.  Jackson Clark told us about the history of the rugs and blankets: the Ute taught the Navajo to weave wool and one chief’s blanket could be worth 20 horses!  The rugs with a solid border should have a “spirit line” to connect the inner design with outside the rug.  We saw many other hand-made items in this gallery, including jewelry and other art pieces. 

We toured the Train Museum, next to the Durango and Silverton Railroad Depot the next morning – well worth the time.  Lots of old train memorabilia, other transportation history, lead model servicemen in military scenes as well as other historic and pioneering artifacts.  The gift shop has many items suitable for each of your children or grandchildren: tee-shirts or a railroad cap as well as mugs, and playing cards to purchase as a souvenir.  Guided tours are available – restrooms are available and a coffee shop with specialty coffees is at the opposite end of the museum from the gift shop.  Wheel chair accessible though the walkways in the museum can be narrow. 

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a National History Landmark (NHL).  Rails follow the winding, canyons along the Animas River up to Silverton.  The general recommendation is to take the bus to Silverton (1874) and ride back on the train.  The driver-guide on the bus is a fount of information about the towns, the mining history and the railroad so you will be aware of what to look for when you are on the train.  During its heyday, three railroads were operated out of Silverton.  Legend has it that Silverton was named by a miner who commented “We don’t have gold here, but we have a ton of silver”. 

We had lunch in Silverton at the Brown Bear Café, located at 1129 Greene Street.  Lunch was excellent and we were hosted by Visit Durango.  Restrooms are clean – there are steps into the restaurant. 

After lunch we had about an hour for shopping or a walk to the local cemetery where there are many interesting grave markers – often listing the cause of death.  This walk takes about an hour so allow time.  The cemetery is at 9,318’.  The first recorded burial was in August, 1878 – Rachel Farrow, a young girl who died of “mountain fever” (pneumonia?).  The first marked burial was James Briggs, killed in an 1878 snow slide.  The Abbott family has a marker for their son, William P. Abbott, who died at age 21 of a morphine overdose.  Otto Mears is also buried here – “Pathfinder of the San Juans”.  This town receives as much as 30 feet of snow annually – a good reason for so many snow slides!

Or, we could go shopping before we boarded the train for the trip back down to Durango.  There are several restaurants in Silverton and several good Native American jewelry and local craft shops.  There are public restrooms at the Silverton Town Hall.  Support the local economy – buy something. 

Our train left Silverton at 2:30 pm – for better photos, it might be better to book the train up to Silverton and take the coach back down to Durango.  Book your ride at the Depot in Durango or online. 

The next morning we headed off to Mesa Verde.  Member Carolyn Emanuel, has managed many tours in this area and was a wealth of information – beginning with the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt.  This Act recognized by law “the material remains of our past were a valuable part of our heritage” as well as a foundation for management.  It “created criminal sanctions for the destruction” of such items, authorizing study and “allowed presidential designation of ‘outstanding archaeological, historic and scientific areas as national monuments for long-term preservation’”, protecting “any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity” on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government.  These acts were/are through proclamation or Congressional approval (quoted from BLM flyer).

Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Stopping at the Visitor & Research Center for background information is recommended.  Aramark provides the guides to provide coach commentary – necessary because there is little signage at the sites we visited.  We were unable to actually go down to the cliff dwellings but many were visible from the road and there were many photo opportunities.  Early seasonal closings (Labor Day or October 1st both often weather dependent) so check with the Visitor Center when you book your tour.  Our guide was very knowledgeable though she often offered too much information about a particular site without tying together with the previous or next site.  Our recommendation would be that you request information ahead of time about the vegetation, land formation, climate influence on the early inhabitants and their demise, but don’t go without a step-on guide. 

Spruce Tree Cliff Dwellings (closed when we were there) does have wheelchair accessibility as do some other sites.

Our next stop was the Sky Ute Casino / Lodge in Ignacio, Colorado.  This is run by the Southern Ute Native American tribe.  Jeff Layman, Group Sales Coordinator, was our host.  He and his staff were well prepared for our “invasion”.  We had dinner on our own at one of the Lodge restaurants and then spent the evening losing money in the casino.  Jeff gave each of us a $10 credit card to use in the casino – which may not be offered to any group you are taking there.  Many of the lodge rooms overlook the Seven Rivers Steak House and the Willows Café Bistro on the main floor.  There is also the Rolling Thunder Grill.  Customer service here is awesome and all the restaurants offer good food.  Ambiance is great – they really want you to have a good time. 

In the morning we visited the Southern Ute Cultural Center just a short walk from the casino.  The museum is being recreated and we were able to visit behind the scenes and see what is planned for the future.  Our guides behind the scenes were Linda Baker and Jed Smith.  They were very informative and helped us to understand the skill and reverence in preserving, displaying fragile tribal artifacts and the plans for the future.  Groups should not be larger than 10, plan accordingly when you request a guide. 

A current exhibit here is the Mountain Lion exhibit – complete with sound effects.  This exhibit was developed by the Center for Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, Durango and the Colorado Division of Wildlife and continues until April 2017. 

Restrooms were on the same level and coach parking is available.  Loading and unloading are very efficient. 

This museum is a very interesting place and the group highly recommends a visit here.  You will learn more about the Southern Ute culture, their emphasis on education and their heritage.  On October 16, 2016 the Denver Post noted:”The Southern Utes have attracted scant attention for their 15-year push to make it easier to drill on Indian land.  Their goal: Extend financial opportunities that have given them control of 1,600 wells across four states, and helped make them one of the richest tribes in the U.S.”. 

From Ignacio, we headed home to Denver – traveling on the byways instead of going across to pick up I-25 – evening traffic could have delayed us.  Again, other attendees gave short presentations about things we were seeing on the route home – educational all the way!!!!  Mary Bendelow offered a synopsis of these reports – those who attended should have received an email with this information. 

Below are the names of the suppliers and their contact information.  Assume Durango if city is not listed – zip code 81301. :

Grace Shepard
Group Sales / Operations
Durango Area Tourism Office
802 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301
800.525.8855 / 970.828.1039

Strater Hotel (NHL)
699 Main Avenue

General Palmer Hotel (4 diamond)
567 Main Avenue

Best Western Rio Grande Inn
400 East 2nd Avenue

Holiday Inn & Suites
21636 Highway 160 West

Rochester Hotel
726 East 2nd Avenue

Kristi N. Householder
(Walking Tour)
Durango Friends / Arts

Durango Welcome Center
802 Main Avenue

H. Jackson Clark II
Toh-Atin Native American Art Gallery
PO Box 2329
145 West 9th Street

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (also Train Depot Museum)
479 Main Avenue
Durango, CO 81301
Carrie Whitley, Sales Mgr.

Brown Bear Café
1129 Green Street
Silverton, CO 81433

Carolyn Emanuel
FAM Coordinator

Mesa Verde National Park Visitor & Research Center
PO Box 8
Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

Jeff Lyman, Group Sales Team
Sky Ute Casino Resort
14324 US Highway 172 North
Ignacio, CO 81137
970.563.1757 / 888.842.4180

Linda Baker / Jed Smith
Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum
PO Box 356
77 County Road 517
Ignacio, CO 81137

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WHAT:  Rocky Mountain Guide Association FAM Tour

WHERE:  Durango, DSMGRR, Mesa Verde NP, Ignacio

WHEN: October 11th -14th 2016

ORGANIZER:  Ed Weising

TOUR DIRECTOR:  Carolyn Emanuel in Durango

DRIVER:  Ken Stauffer

Contact at Durango Area Tourism Office
                   Grace Shepard      

                   D: 970-828-1039       

                   C: 970-764-0663

List of suggested books on Durango and the area, click here

Tuesday, October 11th


6:30-7:00am  Arrive at the Wooly Mammoth Park & Ride lot at I-70 & the Morrison exit (Exit 259, Northwest lot).   The address of the lot is 18560 U.S. Hwy 40, Golden, CO. 80401.

7:30am  Depart for Durango

3:00pm  Check into Downtown Hotels:

Strater Hotel              General Palmer Hotel               Best Western Rio Grande Inn      Holiday Inn & Suites
699 Main Ave             567 Main Ave                          400 E. 2nd Ave                          21636 Hwy 160 West
970-247-4431           970-247-4747                       970-385-4980                          970-385-6400
www.strater.com         www.generalpalmer.com         www.bwriograndeinn.com           www.holidayinn.com

4:00pm  Meet at the Train Depot, 479 Main Ave. – Historical Society Guides will give us a Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Durango.  Stroll and listen to a narrative of Durango’s history.  Visit several of Durango’s nationally acclaimed Art Galleries

5:00pm  Walking Tour will bring you to the Durango Welcome Center for a: Welcome Center Reception. Enjoy tastings from Durango’s local producers of grass fed beef, micro-brewed beer, local wine, cheeses, chips and more (compliments of Visit Durango)

6:00pm  Grace Shepherd with DATO will walk with you to:  Toh-Atin Native American Art Gallery.  Listen to Jackson Clark as he shares his incredible knowledge of the art and history of Native American blanket and rug making.  The Clark family history is intermingled with the trade and movement of this great art form.

7:30pm  Enjoy Durango.  If you are still hungry, dinner is on your own.  Durango is a hub for local musicians, bluegrass, country, ragtime, Celtic or rock, the venues for music are many, visit
www.durango.org for options

Wednesday, October 12th 2016      

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Adventure

Take a journey back in time and step into the history of the American Wild West. Travel through some of the most breathtaking scenery Colorado has to offer - the backcountry wilderness of the San Juan Mountains. Your historic, coal fired, steam-powered train travels up a winding narrow gauge grade as you travel past cascading creeks and waterfalls, through towering virgin pine forests to the view of rugged snowcapped summits on your way to Silverton. Bring your camera because you will want to use it as your train winds its way onto the "highline", a famous section along the face of high cliffs. Your journey’s destination is the mining town of Silverton, nestled in the middle of the San Juan Mountains. Secluded at 9,318 feet, a visit to Silverton is one that you will not forget. A perfect combination of intimate restaurants, boutique shopping and supreme natural beauty adds to Silverton’s Victorian charm.

In the 1880s, the town of Durango was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, the railroad arrived in Durango in 1881 and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of the same year. By 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed. The D&SNGRR line was originally constructed to haul silver & gold ore from the San Juan Mountains, but passengers soon realized it was the journey’s views that were truly precious.

D&SNGRR Contact information:                            D&SNGRR Depot Address

Carrie Whitley, Sales Manager                               479 Main Ave, Durango CO 81301               
E: cwhitley@durangotrain.com                              970-247-2733                         
Direct: 970-385-8842                                          www.durangotrain.com

Free Continental Breakfast at your hotel.               

9:00am  Walk from your hotel and meet the Train Station, 479 Main Ave., for a guided tour (by Train Staff) of the Museum.

10:00am  Meet out in front of the depot to board the D&SNGRR Motor coach
                RESERVATION # 291929 One way – Silverton to Durango

10:15am  Depart on D&SNGRR Motor Coach to Silverton

11:30am  Motor coach arrives in Silverton (driver will explain where to board the Train at 2:30pm)

11:45am  Lunch - Hosted by Visit Durango at the Brown Bear Café 1129 Greene Street in Silverton.  2 ½ hrs to have lunch and enjoy Silverton, don’t forget to step into the newly remodeled Grand Imperial Hotel or take a short walk to 10th and Cement Street to visit the Silverton Depot.  During the heyday years, three railroads operated out of Silverton.  Although it was built as a temporary structure in 1882 and was bombed in 1975, the Silverton Depot still stands as a testimony to the strength and endurance of the townsfolk in this mountain town.

2:15pm   Gather to board the Train

2:30pm    Depart for Durango on D&SNGRR Train

5:45pm  Arrive in Durango

6:45pm  Dinner at the Mahogany Grill - Hosted by Visit Durango - located in the Historic Strater Hotel, 699 Main Street, Silverton.  The group will enjoy the ambiance of the Victorian Old West while being served an array of hand-crafted cuisine. The blend of simple with the ornate, of the old with the new is grand. This Durango gem is sure to please all palates!!

After Dinner      On your own:  Visit the Diamond Belle Saloon, just on the other side of the Strater’s lobby, for a taste of the Old West experience.   The staff dress in period style clothing and the nightly live music is a local draw.  For more Durango entertainment visit Durango.org

Thursday, October 13th 2016                  

Mesa Verde National Park Tour             

Discover the Heritage of the Ancestral Puebloans who made the Southwest Region their home for over 700 years. With hundreds of archeological sites dotting the hillsides, with spectacular views and rich history. Mesa Verde National Park has the largest cliff dwellings remaining in North America and is one of the 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the United States. The Ancestral Puebloans farmed this area as far back as 600 AD, and lands fertility stretches along the horizon as far as the eye can see. It is easy to see why Smithsonian magazine would rate Mesa Verde National Park as one of the top 28 places to visit in your lifetime.

Free Continental Breakfast at your hotel

8:00-8:30am    RMGA Motorcoach -  will pick up everyone at their Hotels

Have your luggage with you to be loaded onto the RMGA Motorcoach

This will be your transportation for the whole day.  Bring your water bottle, small daypack, hiking boots , sunscreen, sun hat like a baseball hat and your wallet in case you wish to buy Native American arts and crafts.   Or Books on Mesa Verde.

9:15am   Arrive at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center and pick up Step On Guide (3 hr. interpretive tour)  Entrance Station – RMGA Group Fee will be waived by, Sue Johnson Elner

10:00am  Pick up Aramark Guide and start tour

1:30pm  Lunch at Spruce Tree Terrace - Hosted by Aramark; Entrée, two sides, fountain beverage, 2 cookies

3:00pm  Drop off Guide

3:15pm   Drive to Ignacio, 19 miles southeast of Durango

4:20pm  Arrive in Ignacio
4:30pm   Check into the Sky Ute Casino Hotel
Dinner on own at Sky Ute Casino                          Seven Rivers Steak House – Upscale, great steaks & seafood

www.skyutecasino.com/dinning                            Willows Café Bistro – Casual, breakfast, lunch & dinner

                                                                          Rolling Thunder Grill – Casual, great burgers, full menu

Sky Ute Contact Information:                                 Sky Ute Casino Address
Jeff Lyman - Group Sales Coordinator                     4324 US Hwy 172 Ignacio, CO 81137   
Jeff.Lyman@skyutecasino.com                               970-563-7777                                                                           

D: 970-563-1757                                                 www.skyutecasion.com

Friday , October 14th 2016                       

Southern Ute Cultural Center

The permanent gallery tells the story of the Southern Ute Tribe from the earliest times to the present day.  Arranged as a circling, self guided tour, visitors start at the Circle of Life Theater for an introductory 360 video degree experience. Next is a journey past Rock Art and a full-size replica tepee, past glorious ceremonial dress, through a replica house and schoolroom, and out via a rodeo experience to an exhibit that shows how the Southern Ute live today

8:00am  Breakfast at Willows Bistro – Hosted by Visit Durango

9:00am  Walk to the Southern Ute Cultural Center with Jeff Lyman.  Tour of the Cultural Center; Address is 14826 US Hwy 172, Ignacio CO 81137

11:00am  Depart for Denver RMGA Motorcoach

On your way back to Denver you will pass - Chimney Rock national Monument, one of America's newest National Monuments, a place of mystery, a sacred place, a celestial observatory and seasonal calendar for the Ancestral Puebloans over 1,000 years ago. Chimney Rock is a place of unparalleled natural beauty sitting on a high mesa at the southern edge of the San Juan Mountains and on the National Register of Historical Places since 1970.