Riding The Road Runner North
It's a 167 mile stretch from Durango to Grand Junction. Along the way, there’s numerous towns, villages, mountain peaks and people that make the trip unique. The designated path offered by Road Runner Stage Lines cuts straight through the San Juan National Forest.
It grazes national conservations such as the Gunnison Gorge or Dominguez-Escalante that sit on either side of Highway 50. People from all over the country travel to the colorful state of Colorado and experience the trip, but for us Coloradans it’s right in our backyard.
The bus ride begins early in Durango and makes various stops throughout the morning including Cortez, Telluride and Ridgway until it reaches Grand Junction by midday. Road Runner offers an option to purchase either a one way ticket or a round trip back to Durango the same day. The bus leaves promptly at 7:00 AM and tickets can be purchased at the Durango Transit Center or via telephone.
Road Runner Stage Lines, located in Durango and Ignacio, have been servicing the state with transportation services on the Western Slope since 2014, when it partnered with CDOT, Greyhound and Southern Ute Community Action Programs (SUCAP). The Colorado Department of Transportation has recently loaned a new bus to Road Runners, one that will replace a bus from 1999.
According to a Road Runner Stage Lines press release and Director Matt Nesbitt, the new bus will bare the Bustang logo, another regional transportation service operated by CDOT. The numerous updates include new seats, a restroom, and USB outlets in order to make the trip more comfortable. By 2018, Road Runner hopes to purchase a new bus of their own to continue the route from Durango to Grand Junction.
“Ideally, CDOT is trying to connect the whole state. The idea is to break it up into segments, connecting everyone to a larger home,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt said that the route serves almost every type of rider, from riders on a budget to folks traveling with children and senior citizens just getting out for the day.
“We see all of it,” Nesbitt said about the passengers.
“It's just crazy, all these little towns are expanding and people haven't thought about what you do when you don't have a car. It's a very neat option. It takes a lot of folks to get it done, but it's very cool to see people get around with it and pushing us to grow,” Nesbitt said.
Usually, most people board in Durango, Grand Junction and Telluride, but Nesbitt has noticed that Cortez is also becoming a big hub for travelers.
“Grand Junction is a large numbered stop because of its access to Greyhound, but Cortez is picking up as a popular route,” Nesbitt said.
For some, the route is a way to get groceries, visit family or go to work. For others, it's a tourist attraction. Rick Pool, one of the long-standing bus drivers for Road Runners, said that a lot of the regulars have become acquaintances, even friends. Cowboys from Montana, Montrose natives, and students traveling to Grand Junction include just a few of the characters he finds to be memorable.
“There’s several [passengers] that stand out, and there’s definitely some friendships. It’s a service, and people are genuinely appreciative,” Pool said.
Pool has been working for Road Runner Stage Lines for several years, and for him, the 14 hour days are “generally, not a big problem, once I get going and get in a certain zone.”
He definitely has a knack for long road trips, given his estimation that he takes the route nearly 175 times in a single year. Aside from the interesting people, he said that the next best part of his job is getting to see different wildlife in areas such as Mancos and Lizard Head Pass.
But the route isn’t always easy.
Nesbitt said that the bus drivers have to be ready for all kinds of challenges on the road such as avalanches and mudslides. Safety is always the top priority, and Nesbitt said that “it’s certainly interesting to fight the elements.”
It’s easy to take your home state and all that it offers for granted. If you’re feeling disappointed that you haven’t taken advantage of this impressive corridor, don’t worry; Road Runner Stage Lines is located in downtown Durango and offers this trip daily, weather permitting.