Road trip: Dallas to Durango and back – Part 1

Old Tymer’s Café

Durango road trip.

The heart-palpitating anticipation built just thinking about the Southwest Colorado town.

We had been there before. Twice. The last time with our son in tow. This time, however, he had started classes at University of Texas at Dallas when we went on our end-of-summer road trip.

Our trip covered North Texas, the northeast corner of New Mexico and southern Colorado to Durango in two days. If you’ve ever taken a road trip on that route, which includes the Texas Panhandle, you are familiar with its grand vistas and unique sights.

The sights included the Rabbit Ear Café in Clayton, N.M., where we indulged in green-chile cheeseburgers on something called the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a herd of antelope – not playing with the deer, but browsing on the tufted plains grass for breakfast – and Capulin (Cap-u-leen) Volcano National Monument two-thirds of the way from Clayton to Raton, N.M., on U.S. Highway 64/87.

From Raton, our road trip went up I-25 and the Santa Fe Trail to Walsenburg, CO, then west on Highway 160, through Alamosa and past nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, across the Continental Divide – where we ascended into the clouds through Wolf Creek Pass at over 10,000 feet – to Pagosa Springs, and then on toward our final destination, lodgings just outside of Durango. Passing Chimney Rock National Monument, I was reminded that getting there really IS half the fun.

Durango was just as we fondly recalled – Main Avenue lined by Victorian-era buildings, first and sometimes second floors occupied by modern shops and restaurants – except there were fewer tourists. “It’s the end of our season,” explained one shop owner, apologizing for the lack of some merchandise. That suited us just fine as fewer other sightseeing tourists meant less jostling for position on sidewalks.

And there is something to be said for having a meal at an uncrowded balcony restaurant overlooking the town during a quickly passing rain storm, then enjoying frozen yogurt and ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery on a patio across from the vintage General Palmer Hotel.

Two of our most memorable sights: the Diamond Belle Saloon in the Strater Hotel and the Old Tymer’s Café, where they brag that “We cheat tourists and drunks.” We weren’t cheated as far as we could tell.

Besides several more visits downtown, our trip was, in a word, ruinous, including visits to Mesa Verde National Park about 36 miles west of Durango, which features 1,000-year-old cliff dwelling ruins, and Aztec Ruins National Monument – a misnamed pueblo, because it has nothing to do with the Aztecs of Mexico – about the same distance south of Durango. Later we visited Chimney Rock, which also featured ruins and two tall rock columns inhabitants revered for, well, archaeologists aren’t sure.

At every stop, the end-of-the-season rule seemed to apply. We weren’t complaining. But then something happened that dramatically changed the course of our road trip. And it wasn’t the hordes of motorcyclists expected for the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally Thursday through Sunday, which included two street parties in downtown Durango. Although it could have been.

To be continued next week …

See more road trip adventures on The Open Road blog at

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