Southwest Colorado is a place where the Old West and ancient history survive. From marveling at the Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park to taking in the breathtaking views from the historic Durango-Silverton Railroad, Durango fits the bill perfectly for adventure seekers, history buffs, and city slickers wanting to experience the Old West, yet wanting a quaint town to stroll through for shopping and dining.
After two weeks road tripping through national parks, the last leg was a stop in Durango, founded in 1880 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. I had to end the journey with a quick stop at a national park I’ve been several times – Mesa Verde National Park. It was the first time for my friend Lisa to see it. A first-timers reaction to the Cliff Palace is priceless. Mesa Verde was the first national park dedicated to the works of man. If I’m close, I always do the 20 mile drive up the mesa to marvel at the dwellings. Catching them at sunset on this trip was nothing short of magical.
It’s about an hours drive from Mesa Verde to Durango. Lisa and I pulled into town to stay at the historic Strater Hotel. Here’s the quick history on it – Henry, Frank, and Fred Strater moved to Durango, Colorado from Ohio. They opened Strater Bros. Paints and Oils Store (now the Office Spiritorium in the hotel). Henry always had a dream of opening a hotel. In 1887 The Strater Hotel opened. Henry was also a pharmacist. Hoping to pursue his pharmacy business, he brought on H.L. Rice as manager of Strater. But a misunderstanding over pharmacy location prompted Henry to open a second hotel, the Columbian, in place of the Paints and Oils Store. Henry hoped this would run Rice out of the Strater. But, it was 1893, the year of the silver panic. Henry lost both hotels. The hotels survived and eventually the Columbian and Strater hotels were joined then “the back 40” rooms were added. There are 93 rooms in the hotel today. Since 1926, the hotel has been owned and operated by the Barker family. In addition to the hotel, there’s also The Diamond Belle Saloon, The Office Spiritorium, The Mahogany Grille, and the renowned Henry Strater Theater.
As you walk into the lobby of the stately hotel, you might think you’ve stepped back into the Old West with the period wallpaper, ornate chandeliers, and beautiful handcrafted woodwork. The hotel is home to the largest collection of American Victorian walnut antiques, which decorate the hotel and guestrooms.
Lisa and I walked into a room with one queen bed and one twin bed. We both fell in love with our home for the night. Surprisingly for a historic hotel, the rooms and bathrooms are a good size. The rooms are decorated with furnishings just as rooms would have been in the late 1800s. The small bathrooms on the other hand, are modern.
After settling into our room, we headed out to stroll along Main Street and find something for dinner. I’d suggested Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen earlier in the day and that’s where we ended up for a fun, festive dinner on the last night of our road trip. It was a great meal filled with fabulous food, friendly service, and a lot of laughs over several cocktails. First up – cocktails! I immediately ordered the Mesa Verde Margarita. It’s Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila, ancho reyes verde, St. Germain, lime and agave. The ancho reyes verde gave it a little smoky flavor that was so good! You can’t go to Chimayo and not order the Shishitos and Shiitakes. The appetizer is one of those you’ll be craving for weeks! It’s a combination of blistered shishito peppers, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and carmelized cauliflower sprinkled with Tajin lime salt. Even if you’re like me and not a sauce fan, you have to try the sriracha-cilantro garlic aioli that comes with it. There’s some spicy heat to balance out the richness of the aioli. For entrees, Lisa ordered the Cauliflower “Steak” recommended by the chef. It’s a pan-roasted thick piece of sliced and seasoned cauliflower served with roasted veggies and topped with parmesan and an oven-roasted tomato vinaigrette. Hands down best cauliflower steak I’ve ever tasted! I eyed the fish tacos as soon as I opened the menu. The grilled fish is topped with kale coleslaw, tres queso, queso fresco, guajillo aioli, pickled red onions, and jalapeños in a tortilla – yum is an understatement. We both went for a second round of cocktails to go with our entrees, and this time I wanted to try the Sangria de Chimayo. It’s red and white wines with spiced rum, mixed berries, cinnamon, and served with an orange slice. It was a light refreshing compliment to my fish tacos. Not sure how, but we did save a little room for dessert. We split a tart served up in a small cast iron skillet and topped with vanilla ice cream. Scrumptious is what it was!
Before retiring for the night, we stopped in the Diamond Belle back at the Strater for a night cap. It was packed so I waited until the next morning to snap a few pictures.
Early the next morning I ventured down the hall to get coffee. I loved that I didn’t have to go all the way down to the lobby. Each floor has a coffee bar. Yes, that means you can just walk down the hall in your pjs to grab coffee, like I did, and no, there are no pics or video of me running down the hall!
Before hitting the road back to Denver, we headed into the Mahogany Grille for a quick breakfast, since it was included in our stay. In 1893, this part of the hotel was originally a working opera house then part of the Columbian Hotel and was Henry Strater’s attempt to bring culture and arts to Durango. In the early 1900s it was converted to the Red Lantern Inn restaurant, then changed to the Strater Coffee Shop in the 1930s. In the 1960s it was changed to the Terrance Restaurant and remodeled by same architect who designed the Diamond Belle, which opened in the 1957. It was converted back to an opera house in the 1970s. I learned all that from the menu! Always fun to get a little history with a meal. I splurged a little and got a croissant with egg and avocado – perfect fuel up for the last leg of our road trip back to Denver.