Durango translates into “water town”, named after Durango, Mexico by Territorial Governor A.C. Hunt in the late 1800’s, and aptly so as it sits on the banks of the Animas River. The Animas was named by Spanish explorers who passed through the area and lost a few souls in the upper canyons, its original name Rio de las Animas Perdidas, translating to The River of Lost Souls. The steep, cliffed river canyon can be seen today via the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a branch line to Silverton built by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.
The town of Durango actually owes its existence to the railroad. Denver and Rio Grande officials originally intended to extend the line to Silverton from Animas City but the residents and business people raised their asking price for land for the train depot and offices. Denver and Rio Grande executives decided to bypass Animas City and establish their own town to the south. Once Durango was established, many people from Animas City moved to the new town, realizing the business the railroad would bring.
Born in the wake of Colorado’s gold and silver rush, the town acted as gateway to Colorado’s riches for miners and prospectors, Indians and fur traders, ranchers and railroad engineers alike. Durango itself is 118 years old, while the entire Four Corners area is well beyond that relatively young age; steeped in the ancient past.
Two thousand years ago the region was home to the Anasazi, a Pueblo Indian people. They cultivated corn in the area’s river valleys and established great stone communities in the surrounding cliffs. The Anasazi mysteriously disappeared by 1300 A.D. but examples of their art, culture and architecture can still be found throughout the area. Mesa Verde National Park, 37 miles southwest of Durango, features outstanding Anasazi cliff dwellings and artifacts.
Durango’s importance as a business, political and educational center has grown through the years. Durango is the county seat of La Plata County and home to Fort Lewis College, a four-year state supported liberal arts school. The 16,000 townspeople are known for their friendliness, a key element in being chosen to host the first unified World Mountain Bike Championships in September 1990 at Purgatory Resort. Durango attracts “hard core recreationists” and has been rated one of Outside Magazine’s top 15 sports towns and Ski Magazine’s choice as one of the Top 10 most livable ski towns in America. Championship bike racers, kayakers, skiers, runners and athletes proudly call Durango their home.