Wisecracking Will Rogers had this to say about Durango: "It's out of the way and glad of it." His statement is a bit unfair, considering that as a railroad town Durango has always been a cultural crossroads and melting pot (as well as a place to raise hell). Laid out at 6,500 feet along the winding Animas River, with the San Juan Mountains as backdrop, the town was founded in 1879 by General William Palmer, president of
the all-powerful Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, at a time when nearby Animas City haughtily refused to donate land for a depot. Within a decade, Durango had completely absorbed its rival. The booming town quickly became the region’s main metropolis and a gateway to the Southwest.
A walking tour of the historic downtown offers ample proof of Durango’s prosperity during the late 19th century, although the northern end of Main Avenue has the usual assortment of cheap motels and fast-food outlets.
North of the U.S. 160 and U.S. 550 junction are two well-known recreational playgrounds: the ravishing golf course and development at the Lodge at Tamarron and Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, about 27 miles north of town. Purgatory (as everyone still calls this ski area, despite its name change in 2001) is about as down-home as a ski resort can get, with a clientele that includes cowboys, families, and college students. The mountain is named for the nearby Purgatory Creek, a tributary of the River of Lost Souls.