Next we went to the Alligator Farm. There used to be a "branch office" of this organization in Lamar, when they were raising tilipai fish off the warm water from the electrical power plant, and using a few spare gators as garbage disposals for the fish who did not make it all the way through the production process.

But they had to take their gators and go home when the electric company changed their methods and the warm water was no longer available. At least they had their original farm to fall back on. I have to say, I think there is something distinctly rugged individualistic American (which is to say, admirably screwy) about starting an alligator farm way up in the mountain valley near Alamosa. Everyone else with a hot spring on their land built a spa or swimming pool for tourists, but not THIS guy!

His signs are fun, too.

This tortoise runs (okay, slowly walks) free in the first few sections of the indoor exhibits. He was really digging into his lunch, and walked around with some parsley sticking out the side of his mouth for a while afterwards.

These folks take in all kinds of reptiles and amphibians that people buy for pets and then get tired of. They also raise alligators and tilipai fish and fancy plants for garden pools. Here's one of the young gators still living inside in a tank.

And here's a tilipai tank, in case you were wondering what they looked like.

They look almost cuddly, don't they?

They've got a pretty sweet deal going at this place, I must say. They sell cups of Gator Chow to visitors, which means they are getting people to pay them for the privilege of feeding their animals for them! Not to even mention the $10 a head entrance fee!

The signs say there are over 400 alligators in residence here. I didn't count them all, but I bet they're right.

The big ones live in pools outdoors.

I didn't get a pic, but there are Burma Shave style signs on your way out that say, "After while, crocodile!" Fun place!

After the Gatorfest, we wound up at the McDonald's in Alamosa, where again I enjoyed the free wifi while we ate our late lunch and pondered what to do next. Durango, our next potential stop, was only 150 (or so) miles away, but that was over several mountain passes, which take longer (WAY longer) than the plain plains highways I am used to.

I decided we might as well head west and see how far we got. It was again raining off and on, but only lightly. This shot is from the top of Wolf Creek Pass, when the sun came out for a bit and made a rainbow in the low-lying clouds. (Notice the one BELOW camera level!)

We gave it up for the night in Pagosa Springs. There was a place renting camping spots by the river, and we also found a hot springs fueled swimming pool (with no alligators) to soak in, so we camped happily that night.

Here's us getting up at dawn to try to get to Durango in time to ride the train.

Despite a TEEENY problem with getting lost, and then with finding the parking area, we managed to catch the last train of the morning.

Another warning sign to be heeded! I got burned by flying cinders a couple of times, and the conductors carry eyedrops for passengers who get flying carbon bits in their eyes. Seriously!

This is the inside of the car we were assigned to. All the cars are restored vintage ones, and some are very fancy!

You can walk up and down between the cars, which is challenging but fun. I took this one from between cars, of a cyclist far below on the highway.

We bought a guide book, and learned many amazing things, such as that the trestle they call the Highline originally cost $1000 a foot to build, which was big money back in 1881! The engineer traditionally blows off some steam here, so if you are on the right side of the train (which is the left side) you can see a rainbow over the river.

Shadow cars

The train has to stop twice going up and once going down to fill up its water tank -- takes a lot of steam to go 45 miles on a steep grade! There are still a couple of the old wooden water tanks left, waiting their turn to be restored, but for now they just use regular tanks.

The conductors debark during the tanking up, partly to make sure stupid tourists don't get off the train to wander around, but mostly because the Silverton train isn't fitted out with radio communications. They use the old-time hand, voice and whistle signals to safely stop and start.

This is the guy who was nagging ME the whole trip about sticking my head out (only a TINY bit!) to take pictures. To be fair, we WERE stopped at the time, over this little rivulet running into the larger Animas river.

This is a powerplant that makes electricity for...I forget what. There are two little houses off to the side where people live as much of the year as they can. The only way up or down is on the train. What I want to know is, who the heck delivers their mail??

This old bridge was damaged in a flood in 1964, so now they only use it for scenic photographic purposes.

After about three and a half hours, we arrived in Silverton. I believe this is one of the old hotels from the rich mining boom days.

It's a gorgeous little town. I heard someone say only 200-300 people live here during the winter, but in the summer it swarms with tourists!

That's the roof of the courthouse off in the distance.

Here's where Mike and I ate lunch, Pasta La Vista. It was good!

Next, we go back DOWN the mountain! OOOOOOO!

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Pictures copyright Susan Crites 2006