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the world's most spectacular roads

Million Dollar Highway

Million Dollar Highway

In the state of Colorado of the United States of America there’s a special highway built in the late 1880's: the Million Dollar Highway, part of the San Juan Skyway. It's one of the nation’s most spectacular drives. You'll be on the "outside" for a while with a hell of a view to your right (let the passenger look. You'll want to watch the road). Forget standard driving safety measures like guardrails and shoulders, there aren't any on this stretch, so swerving off the road is not advised!

From Durango, through Silverton and Ouray, to Ridgway, the highway delivers jaw-dropping vista after vista. It was cut from the side of the mountain and became know as the "Million Dollar Highway". It's one of the most scenic drives in the USAThe Million Dollar Highway stretches for about 25 miles (40 km) in western Colorado and follows the route of U.S. 550 between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado. It is part of the San Juan Skyway. Between Durango and Silverton the Skyway loosely parallels the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The road climbs up to 3 very high mountain passes. Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft /3,240 m); Molas Pass (10,970 ft /3,340 m) and Red Mountain Pass (11,018 ft /3,358 m). The road is fine as long as you don’t drive too fast for conditions. But if you do, the consequences are severe.

 

 

The weather on this zone is harsh and highly unpredictable and it does not take much time for the bright sun shine to change over to moderate to heavy snow fall. Large RVs travel in both directions often. The road is kept open year-round. Summer temperatures can range from 70–90 °F highs at the ends of the highway to 50–70 °F in the mountain passes. The snow season starts in October, and snow will often close the road in winter. Chains may be required to drive. The drive is very scary on rainy days and storms cause some unnerving waterfalls along the highway.

You'll be on the "outside" for a while with a hell of a view to your right (let the passenger look. You'll want to watch the road.) There are a number of turns around mountains that you'll take at 10 mph. Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles (19 km) south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name. This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin "S" curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains.

 

Driving south you'll be on the "outside" with no guardrails. So, use caution and enjoy the magnificent scenery. The origin of the name Million Dollar Highway is disputed. There are several legends, though, including that it cost a million dollars a mile to build it, and that its fill dirt contains a million dollars in gold ore. First time you drive it, it's a real breath taker. Lots of sweaty palms. Coming out of Silverton north there are several switchbacks. The 12 miles south of Ouray—particularly for Durango-bound drivers, who are exposed to the unprotected cliffsides—are steep, twisting and completely unforgiving of driver error. Originally hand-carved by Russian immigrant Otto Mears in the 1880s, to transport ore from Silverton to the railroad in Ouray, the modern highway remains open through the slip-and-slide snowy months. The original route was widened in the 1930's but was still dangerous and narrow. As the locals say, though, you'd have to "pay me a million dollars" to drive that stretch in the snow. Understandably so. 

The road's winding design, providing stunning panoramic views, is very curvy and fun for a leisurely ride, so it pays to take it slow. Offering breathtaking mountain, valley and gorge views, the Million Dollar Highway is one of the most beloved roads in the country. This classic stretch of two-lane blacktop snakes its way through the San Juan Mountains, the wildest and most rugged peaks in the Rockies. It boasts North America's highest avalanche hazard (per mile). 

Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime and can sometimes block some sections of the road, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. How scary is the Million Dollar Highway to some flatlander drivers? Enough that, on several occasions, there are drivers "frozen" in the middle of the road--unable to drive another foot. The countryside is decked in wildflowers during the spring, and sustains elk, mountain goats, black bears, and deer. The road was incredibly engineered by Otto Mears, indomitable road builder and railroad builder of the early west, and was first operated as a toll road. Today it is surely one of the most breath-taking, historic and amazing roads in the country.

 

 

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