Some say the Million Dollar Highway got its name from the amount of money it took to construct the highway through the mountains, and others say it’s representative of all the gold that was found in the region between Silverton and Ouray. Regardless of which reason it is, nobody can dispute the fact that the drive is full of amazing scenic views, as you pass between multiple 14000 foot peaks.
We headed out of Mancos around 9am on Monday morning, planning on getting to Ouray by lunchtime if we bypassed stopping in Durango and Silverton. We had looked up several geocaches along Highway 550, so between those and picture-taking stops, we knew it would take us several hours to reach our destination.
Just past the Durango Mountain Resort, we turned off Highway 550 onto Cascade Falls Rd.
The road ran along a creek, past several campsites and summer cabins.
The geocache was supposed to be about a mile back on this road, but it deteriorated pretty quickly, so when we had the opportunity to turn around at this little cabin, we took advantage of it.
We definitely could use something with a little more ground clearance if we’re going to be taking these backroads much!
Back on 550, we continued north towards Silverton, and had 2 more geocaches before we got there. The next one was a little easier – close to the road and with a clue that led Bryce right to the cache location.
Near the cache were these interesting-looking plants . . . I think they look like hostas just getting started.
We were climbing in elevation now, and the mountain peaks were beginning to surround us.
The views were absolutely breath-taking!
After several switchbacks and steep grades, we reached the summit of Molas Pass and stopped to take a few pictures. Tom and the boys headed right up to the overlook.
I joined them, where we enjoyed the view of Little Molas Lake and the surrounding mountains.
We took pictures of each other,
and swapped cameras with a family from San Antonio to get a family picture on top of the mountain.
From the top of the pass, we began our descent into Silverton, with one more geocache along the way. This one made our GPS a little crazy, trying to get us to turn down a trail that was only a couple of feet wide! We were able to park in a snowplow lot, though, and walk down the trail.
Nicolas zeroed in on this one pretty quickly, too, and after signing the log, we continued down the mountain, enjoying more spectacular views!
As we approached the little town of Silverton in the valley, we could see the train tracks for the Durango-Silverton train, and it actually arrived shortly after we did.
We’re planning on taking the train ride sometime in June, so we weren’t planning on stopping in Silverton on this trip.
This is the section of Highway 550 that is referred to as the Million Dollar Highway, and it’s not a recommended route for trucks and RVs.
In fact, the Mountain Directory says, “It is not a designated truck route and if you have driven it you will understand why. There are numerous steep grades, sharp curves, and in many places almost no shoulder at all before the edge of the mountain.”
We saw LOTS of these signs!
Regardless of all the warnings, we saw several semis, and multiple RVs, including some big ones! Bicycles, too – lots of them!
North of Silverton we started seeing the remnants of the numerous gold mines that had been in the area, some in better shape than others.
There are several “ghost towns” along this stretch of road, also, but most of the roads leading to them are only suitable for 4x4 vehicles, so we didn’t chance it.
As we climbed to the top of Red Mountain Pass, the switchbacks got really intense,
From the summit of Red Mountain Pass, at 11,018 feet, it was all downhill into Ouray, and the road got even more exciting!
There were tunnels,
which they couldn’t resist touching!
This location of a virtual geocache was a memorial to the snowplow drivers who keep this road clear in the winter,
three of whom have lost their lives on Red Mountain Pass.
While the brakes were cooling on the car, Bryce and I explored a waterfall on the side of the road.
As we continued our descent, we stopped at the entrance to the Alpine Loop 4x4 road . . . the boys instantly recognized the spot as the location of an episode of one of their favorite shows – Top Gear.
Minivans may have made it up this rough road (through the magic of television!), but we weren’t going to try it in our car!
The last stretch of road before we reached Ouray had lots of sharp curves and huge dropoffs, right at the edge of the road . . . I was glad I wasn’t driving!
These falls were so huge, I had to take several pictures and merge them together to get the full effect!
We tried looking for the geocache, but there were lots of people at this popular spot, and we had to be kindof discreet . . . most of us, anyway!
Finally, we reached our destination,
the little 1880s town of Ouray, Colorado. It’s a cute town, with lots of old buildings, and surrounded by mountains.
We were all pretty hungry by the time we got there, so on the advice of another visitor, we went to Maggie’s Kitchen.
They were supposed to have the best burgers in town, and they had pulled pork as their lunch special. We were all going to get the pulled pork, but the guy in front of us in line got the last one! The guys all got burgers, and I ordered a chicken sandwich. The chicken was pretty good, but those burgers looked great!
Some of the 4x4 roads that we saw on the way looked like a lot of fun, so we’ll have to see if we make the drive up here again!
The drive to Ouray was challenging and exciting, and we really enjoyed it . . . and the little town of Ouray was really nice, too . . . it was a great way to spend our Memorial Day! All that was left now was the drive back!