You know it’s coming. Despite the complaining and handwringing about our recent late May snows, you just know there are plenty of hot---uncomfortably hot---days that lay ahead. They may be as close as a couple of weeks away. But two weeks, four weeks, it doesn’t matter. They’re coming. So, if you want an escape from the heat, think Silverton. Yeah. Silverton. It’s that tiny hamlet tucked away in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains where summertime temperatures are rarely oppressive, the air is pristine, and the landscape is breathtaking.
“We have an amazing story,” said DeAnne Gallegos, local businesswoman and the town’s official spokesperson. “We are right on the Continental Divide in the heart of the San Juans,” she said. It’s like “living daily with Mother Nature,” where “there are no Mondays (because) every day’s a Saturday.”
Despite growing up in suburban Denver, Gallegos’ family goes back in this historic precious metal mountain town three generations. She knows the town’s rough and tumble history as well as her own family’s and she’s more than enthusiastic about sharing it.
From 1860 to 1929, miners stayed busy in Silverton extracting both gold and silver from the rich veins of ore hidden in these mountains. A few got lucky and made their fortune. Most, however, left with nothing more than the pennies and lint in their pockets. But a few hearty souls stuck around.
Today, said Gallegos, Silverton is home to about 700 full-time residents. But the warmer months sees the town’s population “quadruple,” she said. It is, essentially, the foundation for the town’s survival. The breath-taking vistas and the myriad of summer activities keep the town percolating on a fever pitch from May to September.
The town, not quite a mile square, sits at just over 9,300 feet above sea level. Its best known attraction is the historic Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It runs on a 45-mile stretch of narrow-gauge track between the two towns. It began running in 1862 carrying the gold and silver ore taken from the mountains. Today, it transports visitors through mountains and canyons unchanged by time. Passengers can look out and see the same majestic pins and trails once carved and utilized by the region’s original inhabitants, the Ute Indians. Once a rich hunting ground, today instead of game, visitors are left to capture images. The train runs from the first Saturday of May to the last Saturday in October.
There is no such thing as a quiet weekend in Silverton, said Gallegos. And it’s no accident. The town makes every minute of the summer season count. “Seventy-five percent of our economy is summer tourism.” What the million or so tourists spend in the town helps sustain its coffers the rest of the year.
The Iron Horse Bicycle classic, which just took place, kicks off the tourism season. The race, run since 1972, “is one of two bike races they shut down the highway for,” said the town spokesperson. Like the train, it goes from Durango to Silverton. The race is a far cry from its original two-man event. The two men who initiated it were brothers Jim and Tom Mayer. It now draws thousands of racers from all across the U.S. along with a handful of bicyclists from as far away as Europe.
Visitors, said, Gallegos, come from every state to visit Silverton with a smattering of international visitors who drop in, too. “We have 23 bars and restaurants,” for visitors who can dine on everything from fast food to “nice, sit-down dinners.” Lodging is just as diverse. Guests can put a roof over their head in a cabin, luxury RV park, hostel, motel or step up to a night in a “renovated Victorian lodge.”
Despite the hours she puts in at her job as Executive Director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce while simultaneously running her own boutique business, The Chocolate Dog, Gallegos also makes time to get away and hike the mountains, a stone’s throw from anywhere in this tiny town. “Silverton’s really a backcountry mecca,” she said. Getting away with her is---no surprise---her chocolate Lab, Ruger. Together, they regularly hit the nearby trails. “These were once sacred hunting grounds for the Ute Indians,” she said. Where they once found an abundance of game for a long winter’s sustenance, said Gallegos, “I find healing and calm.”
For information on Silverton, visit