Before taking lessons in a one-room schoolhouse, a visitor hops aboard a stagecoach, interviews a worker at a uranium mine, examines authentic adobe pottery, and heads inside a saloon. Such is the scene at Museum of the West, one of the three campuses of the Museum of Western Colorado where curators eschew the notion of “look, but don’t touch.” From the interactive labs at the Dinosaur Journey Museum to the live demonstrations of early 20th-century life at the Cross Orchards Historic Site—whose buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places—the staff encourages its guests to get up close and personal with the region’s past.
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.