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332 miles SW of Denver, 169 miles S. of Grand Junction, 50 miles N. of Farmington, New Mexico

Born as a railroad town more than a century ago, Durango remains a railroad town to this day, as thousands of visitors take a journey back in time aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Durango was founded in 1880 when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad line was extended to Silverton to haul precious metals from high-country mines. Within a year, 2,000 new residents had turned the town into a smelting and transportation center. Although more than $300 million worth of silver, gold, and other minerals rode along the route over the years, the unstable nature of the mining business gave the town many ups and downs. (One of the "ups" occurred in 1915, when southern Colorado boy Jack Dempsey, then 20, won $50 in a 10-round boxing match. Dempsey went on to become the world heavyweight champion.)

Durango remained a center for ranching and mining into the 1960s. In 1965, with the opening of the Purgatory ski resort (now Durango Mountain Resort), 25 miles north of Durango, a tourism boom began. When the railroad abandoned its tracks from Antonito, Colorado, to Durango in the late 1960s, leaving only the Durango-Silverton spur, the town panicked. But from that potential economic disaster blossomed a savior: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is now Durango's biggest attraction, hauling more than 200,000 passengers each summer. Durango also attracts mountain-biking enthusiasts from all over the country -- in fact, opportunities abound for outdoor activities of all kinds, from river rafting to trout fishing.