Diamond Belle Tough

29 12 2009

We spent two nights in Durango. The General Palmer Hotel was located between the train station and the Diamond Belle Saloon — Jim had it all planned perfectly.

The Diamond Herself

The saloon was quite a treat. Bartenders dressed like something out of ‘Deadwood’ with garter belts wrapped around their arms. We were treated very good.

“Like Kings!,” Gabe chimed in.

I had spoken to Gabe last week about the trip. It was our first conversation since Jim and I returned.

We talked briefly at the Fiesta Room Downtown, ‘comparing notes’ as they say.

The Fiesta Room is no Diamond Belle — two starkly contrasting settings.

At the Diamond Belle on a Saturday night, patrons could hear bluegrass sounds from a local band and swap traveling stories with others who are “just passing through.”

In this intimate setting, you’d get a blast of cold weather when the doors flung open. On Friday night the college kids packed in and because of the train ride the next morning, we didn’t stay around very long after they arrived.

But on Saturday night, with the fiddle striking just the right chords, Jim didn’t want to leave.

Truth be told, I wasn’t in the best of moods. Tech had lost that night — to Georgia of all teams. I don’t know why I had become such a big Tech fan, maybe it was out of kinship for my fellow nerds.

Tech had a damn good football team in the fall of 2009, but its defense in the Georgia game was piss poor. When we first saddled up to the bar at the Diamond Belle, I had overheard some of the regulars talking numbers and it reminded me of my college days.

Gambling is still very popular among the young males, especially in the West, where Vegas remains an outpost for those who seek to engage in games of risk and chance.

The fellas at the bar chiefly talked pro ball, but the Tech-Georgia game was on their radar.

Jim remarked about how he had been accepted at Tech, but opted to stay in Arkansas for his formal schooling. He said he couldn’t envision himself studying much in Atlanta.

I didn’t study much at Troy, but somehow came away with a degree.

“You’re going to get a Master’s in Social Studies on this trip,” Jim chimed in.

Jim hit the bottle hard on our last night in Durango, but he still made it up the stairs at the General Palmer on his own power. Considering how steep those stairs were, this was no small feat.

That night, before we called it lights out, Jim gave me a nickname.

“Well, Tough,” he said. “We’re headed for the Canyon tomorrow.”

Tough was much better than Ruined and I was pleased.

Back at the Fiesta, the subject of Durango wasn’t broached with Gabe. Instead, we talked about the Canyon and its dry season.

The Canyon was were I would be set free to become one with nature and the park people.

Time to venture out on my own. It would be a challenge, like those summer streets in Queens, only colder and without as many means. It was a challenge that I needed to prove to myself.

Was I really ‘tough’ enough?


Chugging Along the River of Lost Souls

23 12 2009

Was Durango the high point of the trip? Jim said it would be and elevation-wise he was probably right. We took a narrow gauge railroad into the Rockies. Jim had made reservations in the first class parlor, which was the final car on the line.
Those afforded this luxury were granted access to a full-time attendant, a stunning view of the San Juan forest and, most importantly, comfort.

Gabe did not make this trip.

“Slept right through it,” Jim lashed out in disgust.

Was Gabe really sleeping back there at the cozy General Palmer Hotel? Probably not, but who cares.

Being the good chap, I joined Jim for the train ride.  Inside the first-class car there were a wide variety of people:

A young blonde female attendant, a hippie couple from California and an uptight school teacher and his ethnic father from Chicago, who seemed to be Polish. The school teacher was a handsome young man who taught English in the Durango school system and the hippies were quick to question him on his reading list.

Jim did most of the talking to the hippies. I remained quiet, intent on the scenes outside as we chugged into the mountains. This was a steam engine model. Big, strong men shoveled coal into the train’s tummy and away we went, up to 9,000-feet.

Narrow Gauge Journey

The tracks followed along the San Juan River, or as our not-so-perky attendant noted, the “River of Lost Souls.”

It was a fascinating river to follow. The water flowing against us as we climbed. I took a lot of pictures and shot some video too. There was an observation car and there people jostled for position, hoping to capture that perfect picture.

It was quite cold outside the parlor car and soon we made it into snow covered territory. During the summer months, with tourism season in full steam, the train would make it all the way to Silverton, an old mining town.

We chugged about half way to Silverton and stopped inside a canyon for lunch. Jim bought us hot dogs and bloody marys and after we ate, the conductor granted everyone a few minutes to explore our surroundings.

People began to scatter in every direction. Jim took a picture of me in front of the train and then headed back inside for the warmth of the parlor car. He encouraged me to go ahead and look around, the train would let us know when it was time to go.

“Trust me, you don’t want to be left up here,” the attendant said.

It was cold indeed, even with the sun shining. I was bundled pretty good, down to my freshly purchased steel-toe boats. Those boots, just one month prior had been soaked in Florida marshes and now they were getting a workout in the Colorado mountains.

The river was frozen over in parts and its rocky perimeter made it difficult to walk — or was it those damned boots? Whatever the case, my right ankle would be sore for a few days to come.

But it was worth it. Beautiful country. Images that stoke patriotism and pride in one’s country. Images I shall not soon forget.

When I climbed back into the parlor car, Jim remarked at how red my face was.

“I did a lot of breathing,” I said.

And introspection.