A while back, sometime in the late 90’s, I read about a place in Southwestern Colorado called the Weminuche Wilderness. Also known as The Backpacker’s Nirvana, it is located in the San Juan National Forest. I made my first visit to there in 1998 with a Philmont friend, Bill Sassani, where we did an overnight trip, and then drove around the area. I was hooked. I wanted to do more exploring in the Weminuche. I’ve made two more additional trips there since then. Once with Wendy in 2007 where we backpacked up the Valecito River. The other time with my brother Chris and a college friend Ramsey where we did some day hiking the week before my wedding in 2009.
There is an historical narrow gauge railroad that runs between the towns of Durango and Silverton called the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGR). It runs along the western edge of the Weminuche Wilderness and makes a few stops along the way. I read about how backpackers use the train to access the wilderness, and I soon decided that one day I wanted to make a backpacking trip that took advantage of the train.
In the book Hiking Colorado’s Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness Areas, there is a hike described using the train to do a trip. The hike starts with the train dropping you off at the Elk Park stop, and then you get picked up at the Neddleton stop. Wendy and I decided to do the hike over 6 days and 5 nights..
Wendy had some additional time off outside of the planned hiking days so we decided to do some extra touring around. Our first day we drove to Telluride, CO where we spent the night at the Victorian Inn. From the door of the inn, you could smell a mouthwatering restaurant. It smelled like a steak place, but I wanted to have a steak at the end of the trip, so we decided to try another restaurant. The inn was located within walking distance of the main strip of town where the shops and restaurants were located. We found an Italian restaurant called the Telluride Bistro. I had the best chicken parmesan I’ve ever had before. After dinner we took the free gondola up to the ski area. It was a nice little moonlit ride up and back.
Next morning, during our free breakfast at the inn, we overheard some other guests referring to some snow coming in the next few days. The weather report I had seen earlier referred to a chance of snow, and these folks were talking about inches accumulating in Telluride. It was something to consider. We headed out towards Silverton. The drive between Ouray and Silverton is hands down my favorite drive in the country. Its a beautiful mountain drive that puts you up along sheer rock walls, with beautiful views, colorful mountains, and old mining ruins. Its a windy road that is just fun to drive, so it can be hard to look and drive. We took our time getting to Silverton stopping to read signs and take photos. We ran into some rain along the way too, a precursor to the upcoming days.