Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Closed for the Winter

How many times can we point out that, despite the drought that's becoming the norm, we live in one of the lushest corners of the world? (Zero -- it's rude to point.) Good beer flows ever more freely than water 'round here. Never mind that Albuquerque is a mecca frequently on top-ten-beer-cities lists (it's numero uno according to, and numero cinco on AMOG's "wort"while vacation stops); Durango and its environs must have one of the densest brewery populations per capita in the world. (Just to clarify, I think he means "dense" in the mass-per-unit-volume way, and not in a these-people-chew-bowling-balls-like-Bubble-Yum way.)

That includes Silverton, a tiny mining town-turned-tourist locale. You think Durango's doing well with four five breweries to its 17,000 folks? Try Silverton's two breweries to its 531 residents.

Yup. This little town at 9300 feet has both the Silverton Brewing Company and the newer Avalanche Brewing Company. And we had tried neither of them. So when family came to town last week and wanted to take the scenic drive north, Jenny and I grabbed our muy-expensivo growler and wondered all the way up the winding road: which brew would come home with us?

The decision was ultimately simple: No beer. (And, for the record, it was not because we are two helpless, habitual dithering debaters. We are, but that's not why we went home with an empty growler.)

See, the Durango & Silverton train doesn't resume service to Silverton until May. Until then, apparently NO ONE visits the tiny town. No one. The main street is boarded up, the lights are off, and you'd be hard pressed to find five hundred people anywhere.I think we saw one gift shop and two cafes/restaurants open for business. In both establishments we entered, the only employee inside asked, "You folks just passing through?" (Which was probably a polite way of asking, Are you idiots lost?)

You should have seen the looks we got when we admitted we were willingly visiting for the afternoon. (Walk up to a stranger, hand them a rubix cube, and demand they solve it, then you'll see a close approximation.)

Unfortunately for us, the brewing companies follow a similar schedule. Silverton Brewing's windows still have painted decorations from Christmas, as well as a proclamation that Oktoberfest beer is now available. At least the wind and the dancing snowflakes made the signs feel seasonally appropriate during our visit. Avalanche's exterior looks remarkably colorful and inviting, but for the sign in the window that declares they're closed until May. (Ah, so that's where the distress signal "Mayday! Mayday!" comes from....)

Our tongues were dry (and our beer-hearts were broken), but that didn't stop us from having a good time. Our little troupe walked the length of the main street from the near end to the far, where the rust-colored Cement Creek runs through town. (I was fascinated by this part, as I had just written about the creek here.) (The rest of us made moronic attempts to push each other into the mustard-yellow river. Oh, Freud would have a field day with my family!) We poked around in the gift shop and gave the smiling attendant someone to chat with for a while (yeah, like my ten-year-old nephew who wanted to know the price of every single coonskin cap and wood-carved doodad). We enjoyed coffee and chili cheese fries under old-school Budweiser mirrors adorning all the walls (not in the gift shop -- he means down the street at a cafe). And, perhaps best of all, we got to enjoy the high-peak scenery while it was still snow-capped and windswept (he means blizzarding and gust-scraped).

Up there, this time of year, you can feel isolated in the best kind of way (like, I'm-running-around-naked-and-no-one-can-see way. No? Ooohh, you meant in a peaceful-I-am-one-with-the-world way. Oops.). Folks visit Silverton by the trainload all summer long, thinking they are stepping back in time, which is ironic because mining towns were never intended to be tourist traps. But now, what they see is what the town presents them (like how to chew bowling balls). We saw Silverton without her makeup on, and the experience was a treat in its own way (yeah, I'm sure that's what Christine DaaƩ thought when she saw the Phantom of the Opera without his mask on). We might not have found beer during our early April visit, but I think we experienced the town a little closer to reality.

This summer, we'll go back and find out how she compares after a couple high-mountain brews.

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