Exploration 101

by Jessie O’Brien

The tricky part of making a list of hidden outdoor spots is that they are hidden, and if you do know of a secret gem, why would you want to share?

“How about the advice that I give to people who decide that they want to avoid the ants-in-a-line mob scenes that are Ice Lakes and Chicago Basin,” said Mark Winkworth, San Juan Mountain Association visitor specialist. “Go online. Google Durango Hiking – or biking, hunting, ATVing, etc. Make a list of what comes up. Then don’t go there.”

To find a real covert location requires a tangible map and a spirit for adventure, and a lot of us are just not prepared for Lewis-and-Clark-level exploration. With that in mind, we wanted to make a list of local outdoor places that are hiding in plain sight. Stephanie Weber, Durango Nature Studies executive director, helped us out with suggestions of places to go in town that might be overlooked.

The Nature Center 1309 E 3rd Ave. #27, durangonaturestudies.org“We are blessed with an abundance of things do,” Weber said. Because of this, people are automatically directed to the mountains or the surrounding areas, causing us to miss activities that are right under our noses.

The Nature Center is owned by non-profit Durango Nature Studies, which aims to connect people to the outdoors. The Nature Studies website states the 140-acres of land consists of “prairie dog colonies, bird boxes, a children’s habitat play space, an ancient ponderosa pine cross-section with marked rings, xeriscaped landscaping, and a sage-rabbitbrush habitat.”

There is a path that goes for 105 acres along the Florida River, along with other trails that “wander through a wide variety of habitats – riparian, meadows, oak woodlands, piñon-juniper forests, and desert arroyos.”

The center also has a welcome building, pavilion, and benches to relax in the quiet serenity and spot wildlife.

“Anyone who ever goes out there is like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this was out here,’” Weber said. “I love finding a spot along the river and taking time to be quiet and taking in the world around me.”

Durango Dog Park US-160 and Hwy 550More interesting than seeing some of the Durango hippies’ inventive outfits are the adorable dogs that they own. The place to meet both is at the Durango Dog Park, which can be accessed on the south side of Highway 160 West along the Animas River Trail.

“The dog park is an amazing place, not only to just see the array of dogs in the community, but [it has] the access to the river,” Weber said.

The 6-mile area is located right downtown on the side of Smelter Mountain close to the DoubleTree Hotel (which is also dog-friendly). Dogs can run freely off-leash in a designated area, take a swim in the river, and sniff around (aka checking their messages).

Just be sure to pick up after your pet if they feel so inclined to leave a contribution.

Animas River Trail“Even though the poor Animas is taking it on the chin this year, the Animas River Trail has pockets for people who are visiting or are new to the area,” Weber said.

People who live here are familiar with the 9-mile paved trail weaving through town from Bennett Road to La Posta Road. The trail goes through parks and neighborhoods and has plenty of access for people to stop for a bite at places like Animas Brewery or Serious Texas BBQ on the south end of the trail. The trail is one of the most popular sites to see while visiting, so Durangoans might prefer paths that are further away from tourists. But Weber said there are still places to find special solitude.

“There are so many small beaches or pockets you can sit (at) and take it in,” she said. “My favorite place is by the beaver pond near the fish hatchery.”

Fort Lewis College Disc Golf CourseKroeger Hall, 1000-1288 Rim Dr., fortlewis.edu/recservices/facilities/discgolfcourseHave you ever seen someone participate in the goofy act of disc golfing and asked yourself, “Why?” Well, the reason is because it’s actually a lot of fun. Plus, the 18-basket course on the mesa overlooking the valley near Fort Lewis College gets you away from tourists, but is still only a 5 minute drive out of town.

According to multiple Frisbee golf forums and a map of the course, the first six holes on the northeast end of campus near the Smith Field Complex are the easiest. These holes are open spaces with very little obstruction. The rest of the baskets on the southwest side are much more wooded and challenging to play, so they’re suitable for beginners and those with more skill. The holes range from around 150-feet to 350-feet in distance.

It’s stated on the FLC disc golf brochure that non-students must purchase a parking pass from the kiosks on Rim Drive and 8th Ave., or park at one of the meters in the Student Union Visitor Center.

Jessie O’Brien


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