Any discussion of the town of Silverton, by necessity needs to discuss the geographical conditions of the area where it is found. Silverton is literally located in the heart of the largest, most rugged, most isolated and most dangerous section of mountains to be found in the United States. There are hundreds of peaks in this area that are higher than 13,000′ and fourteen of them that are over 14,000′. Between the peaks are huge valleys, sheer drop-offs, carving rivers and more inaccessible areas than places that can be reached. Add to this the notion that if mother nature had planned to hide her spectacular treasures of gold, silver and other precious metals in the most difficult place to find them, she could not have found a more inaccessible, difficult and dangerous place to have them buried.
In the center of all this, at an elevation of 9,300′ you will find the town of Silverton which is in a high mountain valley surrounded by mountains yet another 3000′ higher. Throughout these hills during the 1880’s could be found dozens of mines and ore fields with the common denominator that they were within a reasonable distance of the town of Silverton. Silverton thus became the one piece of civilization in an in-for-mid-able environment where miners, traders, shop owners, bar owners, prostitutes, constables and anyone up to the task of living in such an extreme and, during the winter, bitter cold environment, had a constitution hearty enough to tough it out.
Another important part of the fabric of the town was the railroad, As difficult as it was to build tracks through the mountains from Durango to Silverton, it was a task that was achieved by the master road maker of the era named Otto Mears. Obviously the train does not haul ore today but it is still a major component of the town as it brings visitors on a daily basis along the spectacularly beautiful 45 mile route through river valleys, over mountain passes and through forests and gorges while allowing passengers to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery that America has to offer. The train even provides various types of rail cars with varying classes of service including Presidential Class, First Class, Deluxe and Standard Class. Taking the train from Silverton to Durango will be one of the high points of any visit to the San Juan Skyway.
Silverton today is certainly more of a ‘laid-back’ mountain destination than in its former years and today there are a serious assortment of shops, restaurants, bars, and novelty stores to enjoy. Chief among them will be the Grand Imperial Hotel which can be found in the very center of town. First built in the 1880’s it has been restored to much of its original condition and has classic ‘period rooms’ where you could stay for a night or two and also has a wonderful restaurant and iconic bar.
Silverton’s distinct summer and winter seasons provide different environments for your visit. The summer time is shirt sleeve weather where a beer at one of the local pubs or a ‘look-see’ through the shops will fill the bill. The winter brings snow to Silverton’s two ski mountains. Silverton Mountain provides more of a ‘kamikaze’ descent along ungroomed ski slopes for experienced and adventure seeking skiers but the second mountain is perfectly suitable for a gentle family outing. No matter which season you choose you will have the sense that you have just experienced a glorious slice of America’s ‘Old West’.