With what feels like everything fun being canceled this summer, it’s refreshing to announce the things that are open – including the popular Ghost Walk Durango guided walking tour, which opened for the season last week.
The walk, now in its fourth year, is led by Joe Nelson, who takes both residents and nonresidents through Durango’s historic district, beginning at the old Durango High School (now Durango School District 9-R’s administrative building and also home to a ghostly student who set up shop there in 1957).
Because of the coronavirus we’ve been dealing with for months, Nelson has instituted safety protocols to keep everyone safe during the tour. He has lowered the maximum number of people per tour from 24 to 10. Social distancing is required and everyone must wear a mask.
And for those who have never taken the tour before, if it’s a fake Halloweeny kind of thing you’re looking for, you’re going to be disappointed, Nelson said.
“We’re not going to go through a made-up haunted house, we don’t have anybody dressed up to jump out and scare you – this is as much history of Durango and Southwest Colorado as a whole, as well, with an emphasis on houses that are theoretically haunted, or people have claimed to be haunted for multiple generations,” he said.
Some of the residents from long ago who just can’t – or don’t want to – leave despite their deaths include mothers still grieving for children lost to diseases, inmates who died from asphyxiation and a prostitute who just can’t seem to check out of the Rochester Hotel.
And the local history may be just as thrilling as any paranormal stuff one might see on the tour – murder and shoot-outs? We had it. Old West gangs? Yup. A lively red-light district? Oh, you bethcha. And with the bad also came good people who helped make Durango what it is today.
“If you like Wild West history, you’d be surprised,” Nelson said. “I think our resident Stockton Gang is just as interesting as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who was also local, but more famous. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday – we had some lesser-known people very similar to that that were operating in this area, for better or worse. Most people that came to Durango were hard-working folks that were looking to stay here, unlike a lot of boomtowns, and you can see that by the quality of the buildings and the architecture from that time period.”
And you would think that after leading the Ghost Walk for so long, Nelson, who has lived in Durango since 1992, would have seen just about everything. Not so, he said.
“I stayed in a reportedly haunted room in the hotel on the tour, and definitely had some experiences – we heard a woman walking around singing and humming to herself, as well as the drawers opening by themselves. It was quite thrilling,” he said. “So definitely things are alive and well – pardon the pun.”
Ghost Walk tours usually run through Halloween. Be sure to reserve your spot online.