Winter Train to Cascade Canyon


The Durango & Silverton runs an abbreviated schedule during the winter-- a single train which goes as far as the Cascade Canyon wye and back.  It's a little chancy trying to keep open the tracks in the canyon further north.  While it's not the full Durango-to-Silverton experience, it's a great way to spend a winter day.  Back in the later Rio Grande days, service was suspended entirely during the winter, so this is a pretty nice bonus. 

Usually, during certain periods in late Autumn, the D&S offers a special "Locals Appreciation" fare.  Being a "Local", we qualify for the rate, and try to take advantage of it whenever possible.  Personally, I prefer the winter rides.  The crowds of tourists are gone; the snow-shrouded scenery is breath-taking; the chill air is bracing and invigorating.  You just bundle up a bit.   If you've ever cuddled with your sweetheart in an open gondola, watching the snow-laden forest roll by as 30-degree coal-smoke-scented air blows past, you know what I mean!

This collection of photos is from a ride taken on December 3, 2004.  We were blessed with a recent snowfall, but the air was not all that cold, so the ride was very pleasant.  I'll let the photos do the talking from here.


  Steam and smoke makes for great photo opportunities in cold air.  It's a little before 9:00 AM and the locomotive has coupled onto the train.  Today, K-36 No. 481 will be doing the honors.
 More back-lit steam.  All the sunlight angles are low in December, so one must make the best of it...
 We have left Durango and Hermosa behind, and are climbing the grade between the Highway 550 crossing and the underpass further up.  There are a lot of curves in this area, but trees usually obscure the head end.  The hot coffee is tasting pretty good by this time!
After the brief stop at Rockwood, we proceed out onto the High Line.  Here's the classic photo that everybody takes.  I'll just include one for flavor.
 Looking back as the train curves around the cliff.  The parlor car ALAMOSA brings up the markers today.
 I don't see as many photos of this section of the high line, though it's frankly a whole lot more sheer and scary.  Probably due to the general lack of curves where you can see much of the train.  As it was, I had to hold the camera out at arm's length and shoot blind to get this look.  No WAY I'm leaning out of the train that far, not with 400 feet of air below me!
 Just up the line is the High Bridge over the Animas River.  The engineers always blow out the lines over the river, and I was able to catch them in the act.  This photo is actually from a different trip (Dec 7, 2001), and appears in my book.
 The train proceeds up the canyon to Cascade Creek, backs up the wye, and everybody gets off for about an hour to eat lunch and play in the snow.  This shot is on the return trip, when any views forward will be looking into the sun...
 Curving around the last bit of the High Line, we can see a bit of the roadbed reinforcement below the train.  It's somewhat comforting to see all that steelwork down below!
 Another shot, a couple of seconds after the previous one, that I just liked a lot.
 The train is about to round the curve and head into Rockwood.  Billows of steam and smoke tell the story of a winter trip on the Durango & Silverton.


We've taken the winter train to Cascade a half-dozen times now, and we've always lucked out with having fresh snow.  Only one time did the railroad not include open gondolas, and I think that they received enough negative feedback that they haven't repeated that omission.  Sometimes we've been able to roast hotdogs at the Cascade shelter; other times there was no fire.  Best not to count on it, if you go.  And go you should.  It's a wonderful way to enjoy Winter in the San Juans.

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2005, James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.