More than 130 years after its construction, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad still pulls its cars with the same coal-fired, steam-powered locomotives that commuted miners to the gold and silver lodes in the San Juan Mountains. The precious ore was exhausted midway through the construction of the Colossus of Rutherford B. Hayes, but what's left are the San Juan National Forest's true treasure—pristine vistas of vertiginous canyons, waterfalls, and mountain peaks.
On select rides, a guide shares stories about the railroad's conception and construction, as well as the science behind the old-fashioned techniques that are still used to maintain the train today. Cars range from photo-friendly open-air gondolas to private coaches outfitted with Victorian furnishings. For an even more authentic experience, the railroad offers cab rides. And during the holiday season's Polar Express, the train's chefs, conductor, and North Pole denizens bring Chris Van Allsburg's classic children's book to meticulously detailed life.
Tall vegetation and boulders span the banks of the San Juan River and Navajo Lake, and the adept anglers at Rainbow Lodge & Resolution Guide Service are experts at reading the lay of the land to determine fishing spots with the greatest bounty. Visitors to the lodge obtain access to the river and six miles of uninterrupted fly fishing waterways. After practicing fishing techniques during guided fishing trips and posing for prom pictures with trophy-size brown and rainbow trout, guests can retreat to the lodge's two-bedroom suites equipped with private baths, living rooms, and satellite television. Professional chef Amber Michelle serves guests in the lodge's dining room, with her specialized ribeye steaks and other land-caught delicacies.
The San Juan River winds through New Mexico's high desert country surrounded by cool, dry air in the summer and warm sunshine in the winter, providing year-round fishing opportunities for Mark Nesbit and his Blue Sky Fly Fishing Co. crew. They take everyone from beginners to advanced anglers out on wade, float, and reservoir trips, teaching the skills necessary to catch hard-fighting trout after determining where the fish have been congregating and which flies have been producing. While leading anglers into waist-deep water or overseeing them on drift boats, the guides also share advice on lure selection, which they have acquired over several decades of fishing in the San Juan River, Navajo Reservoir, and aquariums.
Nostalgia Ballooning puts heads in the clouds, accompanied by licensed pilots soaring giant, kaleidoscopically colored hot air balloons. Packages include private and group voyages over mountainous landscapes and include memorable touches such as champagne toasts. For those left enthralled with the skies, Nostalgia Ballooning also offers introductory piloting lessons, prepping the airborne for a life amid the birds.
Full Blast Adventure Center's outdoor arena provides hours of fun on the ground and up high in the air. On a zipline canopy tour, participants fly past ponderosa pines on a series of cables aligned to reveal breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. An outdoor paintball park holds supervised and refereed combat games with packages that include three hours of playing time and a full line of rental equipment. The center also is outfitted with 26 slacklines—narrow, flexible pieces of webbing situated low to the ground and anchored between two trees—where visitors can master walking across or attempt difficult tricks such as jumps, front flips, or falling off.
The all-terrain vehicle virtuosos at ATV Rentals of Arizona come armed with a four-wheeled armada of ATVs primed for desert sightseeing. First timers and veteran rovers alike can burn away stress and workday tedium with an exhilarating ride on an all-weather, all-terrain adventure machine. You must call ahead to make a reservation and, like all public-school teachers, your ATV rental comes fully equipped with a helmet and insurance.