The 236-mile-long Million Dollar Highway, which winds through the San Juan Mountains from Durango, Colorado, has been called one of the most beautiful drives in America. But if you want to follow the trail of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, reach into your wallet for an exciting ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge (D&SNG) Railroad.
Powered by coal, the steam engine hauls a snakelike string of bright-yellow vintage coaches, open-air gondola cars, and a parlor car that serves champagne. It huffs and puffs through the Animas River Gorge, past abandoned mines and canyon walls close enough to touch, inching, in some places, along a narrow shelf above a 400-foot drop. Signs warn of rockslides and turbulent white water swirls below.
The all-day, 90-mile round trip arrives in the Victorian mining town of Silverton in time for lunch. There are over 20 restaurants, with names like Bent Elbow Bar & Grill and Natalia's 1912 Family Restaurant, once the town's oldest brothel, from which to choose. During the two-hour layover, visit the former jail, shop in 19th-century buildings, or tour dead gold mines just five miles away. The Durango-Silverton ride is seasonal and reservations are recommended. During the winter, the D&SNG offers a 52-mile round trip from Durango to Cascade Canyon.
Durango itself is a popular tourist town in Western dress. As a railroad hub, it came of age during the late 1880s, and its heritage can be seen in the historic districts. Among the restored Victorian buildings on Main Avenue is the impressive Strater Hotel, established circa 1887, where ragtime piano still resounds in the Diamond Belle Saloon.
West of Durango, Highway 160 crosses into Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. The Four Corners is the land of the Anasazi, prehistoric Indians considered the ancestors of the Pueblos. These "ancient ones" are believed to have settled in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park about 550 A.D. Here, they flourished for over 700 years, eventually built entire villages within the canyon walls, and then were gone by 1300.