Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Million Dollar Highway

Tuesday we drove from Gunnison to Durango via US 550
also known as the Million Dollar Highway.

Our trip south first gives you a view of the beautiful San Juan Mountains

As we progress we will have to climb up and over these mountains
in order to reach Durango.

Just before we start the climb, the last town is Ouray.
The area around Ouray is known as the Switzerland of America.

Leaving Ouray at 7,700' you immediately begin a steep climb into the San Juans.
Switchbacks up the mountains begin at the end of Main St.

Eventually we will top out at almost 11,000' feet at Red Mountain Pass but first 
we must navigate the Uncompahgre Gorge where the highway is 
cut into the mountain and hugs the cliff.

As we navigate the highway, at times our trailer tires are inches away from the edge.
The drops are in excess of 500'

In order to make some turns and keep the trailer wheels on the pavement
you need to swing wide & cross the center line.

If another long vehicle is coming the other way it gets more tense.

This video of our trip up the Gorge gives you an idea of the ride.

Eventually after successfully navigating the Gorge,
and once on top, you are rewarded with mountain meadows and the 
high country wildflowers.

The area was first known for Gold Mining and many old mine shafts exist.

The above mountain is called Red Mountain.

The 70 miles between Ouray and Durango entails crossing 3 passes.

This means a great deal of climbing and defending in a short distance.
The road snakes up and down the mountains, the switchback turns are often
greater than 180 degrees.

In order to know if I can swing wide enough in the curve, I find my self having 
to look back over my shoulder in order to see where we are going!

In the photo below you can see three switchbacks

What goes up must go down.

See the road down in the valley?

Of course we stop for a self portrait.

Even if a bit challenging at times...  It's a beautiful drive!

From the top of Coal Bank Pass at 10,640' it is pretty much a steady downhill
ride from there to Durango.

Of course due to the steep grades we have to take care to keep our speed under
control so that our brakes don't overheat.

Having completed the Million Dollar highway 3 times this trip
(don't ask... some of you know the story)
We are now comfortably settled in Junction Creek National Forest Campground
about 6 miles outside of Durango.

It is 6 miles up a very dusty dirt road, and off of the beaten path,
 but we have an electric hookup
and the peace and quiet of the forest.


  1. Greg:

    Great description of the road. Next time if you want some excitement drive the road in the winter. Ask me how I know?

  2. Enjoyed the video. Got a real kick out of your description of the location of Junction Creek National Forest Campground. "Off the beaten path" - like the roads you've been on equate to I-95.

  3. I love the view in "Switzerland" , so gorgeous! The pics are breathtaking.



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