The main attraction

The local tourism spiel pretty much has it covered: “Enjoy skiing at Durango Mountain Resort, fly fishing, rafting the Animas River, and mountain biking. Durango has something for absolutely everyone.”

And just in case you prefer simplicity or don’t do grammar, there’s always the streamlined slogan: “real mountains. real beautiful. real colorado. get real this summer in Durango (insert neon coloring over final word).”

As it happens, I had a chance to put the Durango Area Tourism Office’s mantra to the test over the weekend when an old acquaintance from the East Coast and his two teen-aged sons happened through town for a three-day sampling of “real beautiful.”

Things were a little bumpy at the get-go. En route to touching down at the LPC airfield, the trio faced “real” hardship. It turns out, it’s not that easy to get to “real colorado,” and they suffered through four flights (two of which were delayed), lost baggage, waited on standby twice and eventually enjoyed 19 hours of glorious, all-American airline travel (the same trip runs just more than 27 hours in a car).

Swimming in a haze of jet lag, the man and his boys surfaced the following morning and were more than content to poke around our house and catch up on times gone by. After team trauma stabilized, I casually aired the first DATO slogan.

Leaf-looking at Durango Mountain Resort? “Nah, not exciting enough,” was the reply. Mountain biking? “Too much work.” Rafting the Animas River? “Too scary.”

Desperate for a way to “get real,” I pulled my trump card, knowing the three consider themselves “sportsmen” and worship anything with a barbed hook or blue steel.

“Why don’t we pack everyone up and head down to the river and dabble in a little fly fishing.”

The response hit like a blow, “Too wet. Too boring.”

The lead traveleteer seized the moment and offered his own suggestion, “Actually, the boys and I were thinking about doing a little shopping.”

Great, I thought. We can stroll through downtown, grab a light lunch, do some patio time, look for early-season ski deals and maybe even sneak in a walk on the river trail before easing into happy hour.

No such luck. “Yeah, the downtown’s OK, but we I actually want to go to that Wal-Mart we passed on the way.”

OK, I know that some of you are now saying “not another Telegraph bash on Wal-Mart.” You’re not wrong. We have been hammering pretty steadily on the jolly blue giant for the last five years. An even slimmer section of readership is now crying, “Why do you jerks always pick on the good people at poor little Wal-Mart?” I’ll rise to my own defense – this was an absolute first.

Suddenly, our big blue box was more than an outlet for Fruit of the Loom, Huggies and affordable ammunition. Suddenly, that controversial chunk of real estate blighting the view of the purple cliffs became the big draw. At that moment, a cinder block warehouse, adjoining a strip mall and surround by other big boxes was Durango’s top tourist attraction.

In my best effort to be a gracious host, I reluctantly loaded the three into the car. Ten minutes and a request for Michael Bolton later, I watched as the three stepped out of a perfect Indian Summer afternoon and toward the automatic front doors. Their steps quickened – the first time since touchdown – as they slid across the parking lot. Smiles glowed on faces as they descended into the labyrinth of aisles and “rollbacks.” Wonder in their eyes, the three looked out on Disneyland, Dollywood and South of the Border all wrapped into one magnificent, fluorescently lit package. Sam Walton was most certainly grinning up from Dante’s Fourth Circle of Hell as my guests marauded the aisles buying video games, Palm Pilots, new cell phone covers and Little Debbie’s snack cakes. The check-out aisle was like a come-down. All three were exhausted again.

DATO’s right. Durango does have something for absolutely everyone. The town is “real,” too real actually, and the whole experience was a little frightening.

Twenty-four hours after our foray into the land of sweatshop labor and bankrupt mom and pops, everyone was lolling around the house again. Little Debbie had long since hit the road, the new games were already out of fashion and my three guests had weary looks in their sleepy eyes. I saw it as an ideal moment to resuscitate the mantra. “Rafting? Fly-fishing? Mountain biking?” I called out enthusiastically.

“Hmmm,” the leader murmured as he pondered the options. “Maybe later. But first, the boys and I forgot a few supplies yesterday. Let’s head back out there. It’ll only take a couple minutes.”

– Will Sands