Travel Outside Your Comfort Zone

When listening to music, do certain lyrics suddenly stand out to you even though you have heard the song a thousand times? A few days ago, I was listening to a compilation of Disney songs, which if you know my love of Disney this wouldn’t surprise you, and the line below reminded me of a family trip we took in August of 2018.

But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger

you’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.

Colors of the Wind, Pocahontas

This trip led us on many adventures I didn’t know were entirely possible.

Planning and Traveling

As a family, we try to go somewhere every couple of years. Sometimes that was finding a getaway in the northern part of the state or a neighboring state for a long weekend. Other times, schedule permitting, it was to travel to another state. We have family that lives in Colorado, so usually we go see them. Prior to deciding when we were going, my dad had heard about a steam train in Southern Colorado that was still operational and had scheduled rides throughout the morning. This idea was our starting point for planning.

We came up with three things that we wanted to do while there:

  • Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad
  • Wilderness on Wheel
  • Time with family.

Anything else we did, outside just Mom, Dad and I , was planned the day of or the night before.

To be honest, I was nervous about the first two activities we had planned, even though I had found one of them and had done research prior to bringing it up as an option. The results of the trip far exceeded my expectations, in a good way, and that’s why I wanted to write this; so people can find information that you cannot research ahead of time when it comes to accessibility.

Flight

We decided to fly out of the Madison Airport. This airport is smaller but ended up being easier to drive to and the terminals were easier to find despite never using this airport. Security was the fastest we had ever had allowing us to sit and have breakfast before boarding. I would recommend this airport if you find a flight that goes through there.

The original plan was for my aunt and uncle to pick us up at the Denver Airport. A day or so before our flight, I accidentally found out one of my cousins was home for a visit, but didn’t think she would be able to see us.

When we went outside, we saw all three of them waiting. This ended up working out well. My parents rode with my aunt & uncle while I rode with my cousin in her car. This meant we had enough room for luggage, my wheelchair and all of us. My cousin ended up telling me that they planned to have her come to the airport if it worked for her schedule but it was meant to be a surprise just in case it did end up working. Our first leg in Colorado was about to begin with a stop at a car rental.

United Access

My parents had rented an accessible van for this trip from United Access. Being that it was our first rental with them, we had to go to them to get the van. We all rode to the location that had the type of van we requested; a van like one we use here.

Point of reference, if you want a GPS in the van be sure to mention it because the one we got didn’t have it installed and we thought it came with the van since ours had one.

We rented it for the week and just had to drop it off at the location when we were done. After your first time using them, no matter where you are going, you can do an airport pickup/drop-off. They have locations all over the country.

https://www.unitedaccess.com/rent-wheelchair-van/

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Since we were all together, we stopped for lunch, get a GPS and food/water for part of the trip. After lunch, we parted ways for the first activity: Durango, Colorado.

Durango is about 6 hours from Denver without traffic or road construction, which we hit both on the way down. For reference as to the distance from Denver, it is only another hour and a half from the Four Corners Monument; where Colorado meets up with Arizona, New Mexico & Utah.

The views were amazing during the drive; we saw everything from open grass fields, rolling hills, cattle farms, wild horses, small towns and various mountain ranges.

We had a long day and needed rest before our 8 am train departure the next day.

Train Ride

When you schedule a ride on the train you are required to arrive no later than 30 minutes ahead of the departure time.

Due to some weather issues the week before our trip, everyone temporarily had to drive or ride the shuttle from Durango to the first stop to board the train, which was about 20 minutes away. The horse statue was right next to the main train station museum. The next photos are from that first stop. The first one is from the start-up of the steam engine. The second one is the ramp our stop had to get onto the passenger loading zone.

The accessible car was pulled forward and the conductor manually opened the lift.

Inside the Train

During our stop in Silverton, I watched how the ramp worked because it was already open when I was ready to board the train.

The ADA coach car itself is accessible; the rest of the cars are not. At the time we rode, this was the only accessible car. Our specific car had windows that could be closed. Other cars didn’t have windows at all; just open wells. The option to close the window near you is nice as the train is run on coal and it can create ash; you will see this later when I talk about the ride view.

The benches in this car can be removed for a number of chairs to sit there. If you want to transfer to the bench there is enough room to do that and then your chair can be stored in the office on this car. A couple was sitting in the row across from us did this with his chair so he could look out the window easier.

We ended up talking to them throughout the trip, learning some travel tips from his stories of their travels throughout Europe.

If you want to sit in your chair during the ride, make sure your brakes are on the whole time as you are not tied-down. This isn’t a huge issue but just something to make sure your brakes are in working condition prior to riding.

One perk of the car is it will only be full if they over sell the other cars as they reserve the ADA coach car for people that need it and their group. Except for us and the couple, there were only 3 other people in the car; a volunteer for the train, his daughter and granddaughter.

The car has a bathroom that is relatively big that could work depending on three areas:

  • independence level
  • wheelchair type
  • transferring style.

The second photo is from the back of the car as if you were headed to the food car and turned around.

The food car cannot be reached if you use a wheelchair so it’s best to ride with a group of people or bring food. You could potentially ask someone who works on the train when they come around. The ramp I came in on is through the doorway on the other end, near the sign on the wall. If you look close enough, you can see me looking out the window before anyone else came onto the train.

Ride to Silverton and Back

When the train started moving, we had almost a 3.5 hour ride up to Silverton. The train tracks are above and alongside the Animas River. Some of the landscape can be seen in the picture collage. I have a ton of pictures from the ride making it hard to pick. I found a little of everything you will see. The day was windy and a little rainy. The wind and pure speed you are traveling will blow the coal ash into the train car; that’s why you can see footprints in the second photo. I recommend bringing a pair of sunglasses, even if it’s not sunny for this reason. Also, some areas of the ride cut through the center of the mountains. If you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights here’s your heads-up.

When we stopped in Silverton for lunch, we found an accessible cafe and tried to avoid the rain and cooler temperatures. Silverton itself wasn’t extremely accessible but thanks to an accessible cafe we were able to eat lunch and wait for the train to turn-around after reloading with coal.

The view on the ride back was fun because you were now on the other side so everyone could see everything at some point of the ride, no matter where you sat.

If you are looking to ride the train we did, visit choose the Round-Trip Silverton option.

https://www.durangotrain.com/ride-us

Wilderness on Wheels

We planned to stop at Wilderness on Wheels on the way back the next day. It was about an hour away from my aunt and uncle’s house. Wilderness on Wheels is an accessible nature area in Grant, Colorado.

Boardwalk

Wilderness on Wheels is a nature area with a boardwalk trail and fishing area. Wilderness on Wheels also has a couple accessible cabins and campsites that can be rented. The organization itself hosts retreats for people with disabilities and families.

The boardwalk was assembled by volunteer groups for scouts’ projects or families that donated time.

As we were going and following the map, I saw signs along the boardwalk like this one:

Before going on the trail I thought it was a mile loop – nope! It is a mile each way. This was a nice surprise especially when you get to the peak.

When we turned around to go back down I noticed exactly how far we came and it made me feel strong. I was able to do the walk with only a little bit of help.

The way down was a little bit harder as I was tired and was noticing the steep sections. The day we went we only saw a couple families and their dogs. When we got to the bottom, we talked with one of the owners and learned more about the history.

Click below if you would to plan a visit or reserve a site or cabin:

https://www.wildernessonwheels.org/

or

on Facebook for current open dates and event:

https://www.facebook.com/wildernessonwheels/?notif_t=page_fan

Time with Family

The next morning, we went to a museum located at Buffalo Bill’s grave. The memorial statue was a little hard to get to but the lookout point was awesome. After this, we went to my aunt and uncle’s house for the rest of the trip.

The last few days consisted of spending time with them and seeing things in Denver. We walked around a local park one afternoon.

One day us girls went to the Nature & Science Museum. It was very crowded but museums have always been a favorite of mine. All the exhibits that were free were accessible. My favorite was the gemstone one as it kept twisting and turning. We spent the entire day and only got lost in the museum once when we split up going into two different exhibits at one point.

That night, all 5 of us went to Colorado Rockies game. It was fun as we try to go to Milwaukee Brewers games when we can and had always wanted to go to a Rockies game.

Yes, I am a fan of two baseball teams, but the Brewers will always be number one! The same holds true when you ask about the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos.

I can’t tell you much about the accessibility other than the main level concourse is flat and getting into the stadium was easy with the security guards showing us the way. We only had one elevator because we happened to come in an entrance that was on the opposite side of where we were sitting and had to go up half a floor.

The game was fun despite the score. We got time to talk and my uncle taught me how he does the score cards in the program books. The rest of the trip was at their house resting as we had to travel home soon. Our flight was okay other than being extremely delayed leaving Denver.

Overall, the trip in August 2018 was one that I will never forget. I learned more about my abilities than I thought I knew and I learned about accessible activities that I never knew existed.

Since then, I’ve tried to look up more accessible trails in my area and plan to do so for future trips we take. If anyone knows of other accessible places or activities, comment them below or message me on one of the social media pages.

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