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60 Bucks of Sex then Durango

It was five seats across, the lights and images on the screens were hypnotic and it called to us with its coin-chinging siren song. It was a Sex and the City slot machine at the Hard Rock Casino. Carrie, Big and the girls invited us to sit in 2 of the cushy throne chairs and proceeded to suck $60 out of us. (That was a cheap trick, I know, but as an online marketer I’m keenly aware of the power of a good subject line to hook readers.)

The embodiment of temptation

The embodiment of temptation

The rest of our time at Isleta Lakes was mix of hanging out at the casino pool, doing a deep clean on the RV, attending a service on Easter at a Methodist church in town and an overnight trip up the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe. That was a treat for us. We stayed in our first hotel since starting the trip, walked all around town visiting the art galleries and enjoyed a few nice meals out. It was fun to pack a bag and get away from the RV for a bit, but unfortunately our room was just as small as our rig and the bed was not as comfortable. We did, however, both enjoy 20 minute long hot baths with bubbles. Yum.

Stocking cap required

Stocking cap required

By the end of our eight days in Albuquerque we were definitely ready and excited to move on to the next place – Durango, Colorado. It was during the last forty-five minutes of the four hour drive that we finally started to see the landscape change from flat, red and brown desert to rolling green hills and snow capped mountains and it was delicious to our eyes, like drinking a big glass of water when you’re thirsty.

The Alpen Rose RV Park was just outside of town in a beautiful setting just off US 550 which runs parallel to the Animas River and is also the Main Avenue through Durango. We arrived at around 4:30pm, the sky had the look of snow, and having traveled 220 miles north, it was reasonable for it to be colder. We had driven ourselves up into Winter, so we busted out our stocking caps in order to weather the set up duties more comfortably.

Nice park nestled in a canyon

Nice park nestled in a canyon

View behind us

View behind us

Wide spots, only 8 or 9 other RV's in the park with us

Wide spots, only 8 or 9 other RV’s in the park with us

Ali was in charge of indoor set up

Ali was in charge of indoor set up

Since the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings were a 2 hour drive, we decided to push that out bit in order to avoid being in the car on back to back days. Instead, Ali came up with the genius idea to tour the four Durango Breweries via the paved bike path that runs along the Animas River through town. We mapped out the pubs on Google and came up with a 23 mile round-trip circuit with four relatively equidistant stops. All we needed was to get the bikes ready.

Now obviously, this new RV life of ours is decidedly more physical than our previous office-chair lives since we walk, hike or ride our bikes somewhere almost everyday. But what may not be obvious are what we call the “rigisthenics” – calisthenics related to said RV. There’s the poop tube squat, the electrical cord waist bend, the propane tank dead lift, the scooter loading pilates, the bicycle rack shoulder press, and our favorite the stabilizer dip twist, which is a squat paired with an abdomen crunch and turn with bicep/tricep cranks. Ooh baby, feel the burn.

Cute old truck in a yard along the country road

Cute old truck in a yard along the country road

So after a couple of bike rack shoulder presses, 35 or 40 downward presses on the tire pump and a baby wipe bath for our two adorable, but road-grime-covered bikes, we were ready to go. We left through the back gate of the RV park which put us on a country road (way less busy than US 550) that met up with the bike path in town after about 4 miles. We don’t have many pictures from the day. There was a slight air of intensity about us as we pedaled, I guess you could call it goal-oriented. Not that we didn’t revel in how pretty the river was, how nice the path was, cute town, the trees, the awesome ancient bridge we crossed, but let’s face it when an ice cold beer is ahead of you, photo stops are a hard choice.

Map check outside Carver's Brewery which was closed for remodeling

Map check outside Carver’s Brewery which was closed for remodeling – BOO!

Steamworks and Ska Breweries were our favorites and we were only slightly leg-sore as a price for all the fun. The damn Ska Brewery was about a half mile up into the mountain side, a tough climb. Ali pedaled the whole way up, but I weenied out and walked my bike part way (it’s only a 3-speed for pity’s sake). So what’s the BEST thing to follow a hard day of biking and beer swilling? A train ride!

The Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad is a key attraction in town and a very precious memory of mine. My grandparents took us on the train when I was probably in junior high or early high-school. There’s a photo in the family album of my grandmother and I in one of the open cars, the sun shining on our faces, big squinting smiles, me with a mini soccer-rocker mullet, and she with a huge camera around her neck. She loved photography. The open cars were not available since it was still the winter season, and the train only does a half-trip, 26 miles, to Cascade Canyon and back instead of all the way to Silverton, but we went ahead and reserved seats in the standard class heated car.

Ready to ride!

Ready to ride!

We dressed in jeans, sweaters and wore our winter coats that morning as we headed downtown to meet the train at 10am. We’d gotten a tip from a bartender the previous day about where to park for free, up on 3rd street, so we left the car and walked the 4 or 5 blocks down to the station. Just as we were turning the corner toward the entrance of the station house, we heard the roar. It was a herd, a colony, a crush of talking, laughing, yelling children all lined up – no check that – all mobbing around with zero order waiting outside the gates to board the train.

The mob

One-half of the mob

It took just a few brief moments in their presence for Ali to envision us seated in a closed car with that mob before she suggested that we inquire about an upgrade to the first class parlor car. The ticket agent was more than happy to take more of our money, plenty of room in first class, and even admitted that the children are often a very effective marketing ploy for them. The louder and bigger the school group, the more upgrades they get right before the train departs. With our new tickets in hand, we made our way to the very back of the train, the last car, and climbed up into the quaint carpeted parlor lined on both sides with windows and wooden chairs, two per small table.

We were greeted and seated by Bethany, our bartender/tour guide who awarded us with a nice canvas bag and two travel coffee mugs decked out with the railway logo (a perk of the first class ticket). As the train started to roll out, Bethany told the 20 of us about how she would share all kinds of history along the way, she offered a few key safety tips about walking on a moving train, described the delicious honey buns she would provide for breakfast, the beverage choices, and provided ample encouragement to let go of any guilt we might have about drinking at 10 am. Champagne please. ROLL ON!

Heading out of town, right past our RV Park

Heading out of town, right past our RV Park

Entering the National Forest

Entering the National Forest

After about 30 minutes, the town dropped away and we started to climb higher and higher above the river into the San Juan National Forest. Bethany was a human guide book, listing off dates and figures about the construction of the railway, the history of the land, its industry, wildlife and geology, all while she poured champagne, made Rusty Spikes (coffee, Bailey’s and Frangelico) and dropped off honey buns to each of us.

Around a big curve

Around a big curve

Animas River

Animas River

The view from outside on the platform behind our car

The view from outside on the platform behind our car

As I listened to Bethany’s stories in her cheery voice and enjoyed my glass of bubbles and the absolutely incredible view, it occurred to me for the first time since we’d left – now THIS is a job I could be passionate about – Bartender/Tour Guide on the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railway. Ali and I had already decided earlier during our beer bike ride, that Durango was the first city on our trip that we could imagine potentially living in. It has gorgeous mountains, enough water, a small town feel without being too small, and liberal enough politics (it’s no Santa Cruz, but still).

Beautiful lake

Beautiful lake

Famous cut-through, used in movies - actors jump onto the top of the train

Famous cut-through, used in movies – actors jump onto the top of the train

Rounding another big curve

Rounding another big curve

On her next pass by, I cornered Bethany and grilled her a bit about her job. She was in her late twenties, had 2 degrees, one in Psychology and one in Theater Arts, and two jobs, one as a stage manager with a local theater group that performs at the casino and her job on the train which she’d had for 8 years. For the long days on her feet, her fabulous memory, humor-filled stories, surfer-like balance, and deft cocktailing she was paid minimum wage plus tips. Hmm.

BUT – there was TRUE LOVE in her voice as she talked about it all.

At Cascade Canyon, checking out the engine

At Cascade Canyon, checking out the engine

The coal car

The coal car

We arrived in Cascade Canyon at about noon and they allowed us a half-hour to get out and explore the river and the train, or you could hang out in the covered picnic area where they had started a HUGE crackling fire. We did both, a little exploring and a little warming of our buns, but the cold and the mob of kids was quick to shoo us back into our posh quiet parlor car with Bethany, who had brought us lunch for the return trip.

It was an expensive, but romantic and beautiful way to see the mountains. Ali was grateful to hear that by the time we rolled back down into Durango, I had talked myself out of the bartender train job.

FOR NOW!