Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Driving Colorado's "Million Dollar Highway"

In 1988 the San Juan Skyway loop drive was chosen by the National Forest Service as one of 13 roads comprising their National Scenic Byway System. The Million Dollar Highway is a 12 mile portion of the San Juan Skyway between Silverton and Ouray. The roadway was precariously carved through and alongside mountains nearly 100 years ago. From 1921 to 1924, at a cost then of over one million dollars, it was made suitable for automobile travel.

Below are some photos of scenery along the highway, followed by photos of Silverton and shots of Ouray.

Though its nickname comes from the original cost of constructing the road, I believe the moniker "Million Dollar Highway" is also befitting its million dollar views around every bend in the road!

Thought the entire stretch is called the "Million Dollar Highway," the 12 miles south of Ouray which travels through Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain was the most challenging to build and drive.  Its steep cliffs, drop-offs, narrow lanes, absence of guardrails, and hairpin turns make it an engineering marvel and a place where the driver had better not get too engrossed in the beautiful scenery for fear of becoming a permanent part of it!

This area of the San Juan Mountains is referred to as "The Switzerland of America,"and several years ago as I took my Italian foreign exchange student "son" (Luca) to this region, he commented that it did, indeed, look like the Alps of Switzerland, which were only miles from his home in Northern Italy. Below are some more photos of this scenic highway route, and then some photos of the two towns at either end of the roadway. Both Silverton and Ouray sit in narrow valleys, and both have only one paved road, the main street. All other streets are dirt and gravel.

These concrete snow chutes are built to carry avalanche snow and snowmelt over the road without damaging the roadway or disrupting traffic.

Look what we saw crossing the road...

Silverton from up on the mountain.

"Downtown" Silverton and one of its unpaved streets. 

Ouray, Colorado, from an overlook on the Million Dollar Highway as you drive the switchbacks down from the mountain pass.  You can see its only paved street.

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