Driving in the Colorado mountains requires keen concentration and steady nerves.
I learned that today as my son and I drove from Durango to Silverton on the fifth day of our electronics-free vacation. The two-lane winding road hugs the mountainside most of the way. A freefall to certain death or dismemberment awaits the driver who veers off the pavement on the hairpin turns.
Aren’t there guardrails for safety? Only in a few places along the 50-mile route.
I’m used to driving on interstate highways in Texas where you can flip on cruise control, settle into your seat and enjoy the stereo. Not so on U.S. Highway 550 from Durango to Silverton.
I sat on the edge of my seat hunched over the steering wheel, worried that an 18-wheeler would cross over the center line on a blind curve and knock me over the cliff like a billiard ball.
Connor, sitting in the back seat, didn’t seem to pick up on my anxiety.
“Look at those mountains, Dad,” he said.
“Right,” I replied.
“What time are we going to be there?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Are you upset, Dad?”
About 90 minutes after we left Durango, we arrived in Silverton, an historic old mining town. Many tourists ride an old coal-powered train between the two towns. It takes even longer but is far less treacherous.
Maybe we should have taken the train, I thought several times.
Once in Silverton, we didn’t walk the quaint downtown streets or visit the tourist shops. Instead, we boarded a beat-up, 20-year-old Suburban – with the roof sheared off — for a guided mountain tour. I had envisioned a restful, easygoing sightseeing journey.
Our driver, a lean 60-year-old cowboy named Del, immediately veered away from downtown and headed up a steep, rutted one-lane dirt road. I sat in the back and had to hold onto the front passenger’s seat to steady myself.
Bump, bump, bump – up and down like a jack-in-the-box. We saw beautiful mountainsides, meadows and rock formations. But we did so while dodging other tour vehicles and Jeeps coming down the mountain. The road was too narrow for both vehicles to easily pass, so one had to slow down and inch toward the mountain while the other drove perilously close to the cliff edge.
Del, who had a scruffy gray beard and weather-beaten cowboy hat, talked up a storm. He educated us about the history of Silverton – it is fascinating – but he never had my full attention because of the rough ride and threat of oncoming vehicles.
Connor never seemed bothered. To him, it was like we were on the world’s best amusement park ride.
Del stopped the Suburban several times so we could get out and take pictures. We got some good ones. He also pointed out some interesting, multi-colored rocks. He pulled out a pickaxe and cracked open a few, revealing even more colors.
“Cool,” Connor said.
He discovered an interest in geology. The rest of the tour, he asked if I’d buy him a pickaxe when we returned to Silverton. He said he wanted to go back in our truck later and hunt for more cool rocks.
So we did. Who knew that rocks could captivate an electronics-savvy, sophisticated city kid? But they did.
“I want to be a miner when I grow up,” Connor said.
I suggested geology instead, saying it paid better and you got to work inside most of the time.
“OK,” he said.
I thought today couldn’t possibly top yesterday, when we went on an exhilarating zip line course in the pine trees. But apparently it did.
“This is one of the best days of my life!” Connor said.
“Really?” I asked.
“I mean it!”
Wonderful. We completed a fifth consecutive day without electronics – and without whining.
“I want to come back to Colorado every summer,” Connor said.
On Friday, we start our two-day trek back to Dallas. Bummer. Even the best vacations have to come to an end.
I’m hoping for two more smooth, electronics-free days as we end this experimental vacation. I’ll update you Monday on how it went.
Keep your fingers crossed. I am.
To hear how the trip went day by day, read all of the articles:
- A vacation without video games or TV? Wish me luck
- Our Electronics-Free Vacation Day #1: A Good Start
- Our Electronics-Free Vacation Day #2: “I’m having a great time”
- Our Electronics-Free Vacation Day #3: The whitewater rafting adventure
- Our Electronics-Free Vacation Day #4: The highlight of the trip
- Our Electronics-Free Vacation Day #5: A new discovery
- Our Electronics-Free Vacation Conclusion: Success!