The next morning, I’ve got a new guide — Anne, also with Durango’s tourism board — who escorts me up to the Durango Mountain Resort north of town. I’m initially perplexed as to why we’re visiting a ski resort in mid-June, but my confusion subsides when I run through the list of summer activities that DMR offers: biking trails, disc golf, a zip line, a rock-climbing wall, guided hikes and horseback rides through the breathtaking San Juan Mountains. There’s also the ever-popular alpine slide, where passengers speed down a steep chute on a plastic cart with nothing but a hand brake and a faith in the laws of physics to slow them down.
As midday hits, I meet up with Heather at Cocina Linda (soon to relaunch as Linda’s Local Food Cafe), the humble eatery where owner Linda Illsley creates authentic food from local and seasonal organic products. As I devour a tamale, one of Linda’s signature dishes, she tells me the incredible story of her business, which started in a tent at the local farmers market only to blossom into a full-fledged restaurant with a focus on sustainability and supporting local farmers.
After lunch, I find myself tugging on a too-tight wet suit in the changing room of Mild to Wild, a rafting and Jeep tour company on the north side of town. I’m part of a group of about three dozen aspiring rafters, all of whom pile into a bus that takes us through town to our entry point in the Lower Animas River.
The Lower Animas, I’m relieved to learn, is relatively tame. A few early brushes with icy-cold water are quickly forgotten, and we spend most of the trip’s latter half on a relaxing float, only occasionally hitting a patch of river rough enough to require actual paddling.
The day winds down at Ken & Sue’s, a restaurant downtown with a dimly lit, dark-paneled dining room and a bright, airy patio that provide for opposite dining experiences. Though the menu is slightly upscale, the dress code, as it is most everywhere in Durango, is casual. I order chicken stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, leaving little on the plate.
I spend the night about a half a block down Main at the Strater Hotel, an inn so old that the city itself barely dates it. The Strater’s history is incredible: Built in 1887, it still displays relics from its past in small glass cases and boasts the largest collection of American Victorian antiques in the world. The late author Louis L’Amour often used the hotel as a point of inspiration, taking the room directly above the Diamond Belle Saloon where the honky-tonk piano lines would seep through the floorboards and set the mood for his writing sessions.
I catch part of the Durango Melodrama & Vaudeville at the hotel’s Henry Strater Theatre, where etiquette is loose and the audience is encouraged to cheer or jeer to its heart’s content. Checking the time, I sneak out at intermission, hoping to get a bit of sleep before an early morning.