A recent early fall trip to Colorado brought me back to one of my favorite places anywhere in the Centennial State.
The old mining town of Silverton with its population of just 612 souls was established in 1874. Remarkably, the streetscape is mostly original to late 19th and early 20th centuries.
One block over from the relative hustle and bustle of Greene Street, the main street in all but name, is Blair Street.
This unpaved street was one of the most notorious and wickedest streets anywhere in the Old West. Back then, over 30 saloons, gambling halls and brothels lured miners into spending their hard-earned money on all manners of vice.
Those seeking repentance found the means of grace at several churches of different denominations. Still standing as active houses of worship are the historic churches used by Baptists, Congregationalists and Roman Catholics.
While Silverton owes its existence to sin and silver, today’s visitors — most of whom arrive by train on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad — would be hard-pressed to find any vice.
Except for a couple of cannabis dispensaries, which have become omnipresent in Colorado since legalization in 2012, this sleepy small town probably has more in common with fictional Mayberry than its Old West past. Downtown with its tourist-oriented shops that sell the same kind of wares rolls up the sidewalks by early evening.
Preserving the appeal of Silverton is a hot-button issue as this is one of the last true Colorado mountain towns.
Visitors need to know what they won’t find. There’s no Starbucks, no McDonald’s and no big ski resort. Even compared to Ouray, which is located 23 miles up the breathtakingly beautiful Million Dollar Highway, Silverton is very much a backwater.
Finding a restaurant with good service is difficult. At times, it felt like some of the locals working at eateries intentionally provided bad service to dissuade out-of-town customers from coming back.
Quaintness notwithstanding, Silverton’s real draw is everything outdoors, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given its location at 9,318 feet in elevation amidst the San Juan range of the Rocky Mountains. Yet, the love-hate relationship with tourism carries over to a municipal ordinance that prohibits off-highway vehicles within town limits even though such vehicles are recommended for the back country mountain passes of the Alpine Loop, a network of seasonal routes across the San Juans that date to the wagons of the Old West.
If you go
I recommend the Grand Imperial Hotel. While Silverton has a few options for accommodation, there are no chain hotels. This late Victorian-era hotel combines modern-day comfort, including en suite bathrooms and televisions in every room, with the charm and character of a period hotel.
Outside of the sightseeing train from Durango, the only way to get here is by car. The drive from Denver is over six hours.
The closest airport with commercial service is Montrose Regional Airport, which is served year-round by American, United and Southwest.
Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.