Thursday, May 30, 2013

Destination: Ouray, via the Million Dollar Highway

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.

In search of a geocache


Just past the Durango Mountain Resort, we turned off Highway 550 onto Cascade Falls Rd. 

creek flowing

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.

The road is getting rough - time to turn around

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.

Narrowing in on the geocache!

I think they might be hostas

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!

Majestic mountains


Looking back towards Durango












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.



Climbing to the top of Molas Pass (10,910 feet)

I joined them, where we enjoyed the view of Little Molas Lake and the surrounding mountains.

Little Molas Lake

We took pictures of each other,


It almost looks like a fake background - but it's real!

and swapped cameras with a family from San Antonio to get a family picture on top of the mountain.

At Molas Pass (10,910 feet)

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.

Searching for the next geocache

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.

Silverton - in the valley

We’re planning on taking the train ride sometime in June, so we weren’t planning on stopping in Silverton on this trip. 

North to OurayWe did make a pit stop at a gas station and picked up some snacks, and then continued on toward Ouray.

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!



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!

Some of the vehicles we passed along the way to Ouray

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.

Remnants of old mines

Some mines around Red Mountain Pass









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,

Where does the road go??!!

Still some snow on the ground!and we saw more snow on the ground as well as on the mountain peaks.

Red Mountains

We stopped at the Red Mountain Overlook to admire the view and to log another geocache.  Red Mountain









At Red Mountain Pass

Somebody used to live here










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,

tunnel to divert avalanches and snowmelt

Natural Tunnel










and waterfalls,

Waterfall off the mountain

Mist from the waterfall

which they couldn’t resist touching!



Don't fall, Tom!

That water is COLD, too!










This location of a virtual geocache was a memorial to the snowplow drivers who keep this road clear in the winter,

The Virtual Geocache

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.

Bryce found a cave

Water rushing off the mountain

Bryce had to make a snowball!


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.

Minivan challenge

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!

No, we didn't go up!

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!

Not much of a shoulder!



Drive to OurayWe had one more scenic stop, and a geocache to look for at Bear Creek Falls.

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!

Tom looking for the geocache - so discreet!

Finally, we reached our destination,

We've arrived at Ouyay!

Ouray, Colorado










the little 1880s town of Ouray, Colorado.  It’s a cute town, with lots of old buildings, and surrounded by mountains.

Ouray - such a cute town!

1880's downtown


We were all pretty hungry by the time we got there, so on the advice of another visitor, we went to Maggie’s Kitchen. 

Maggie's Kitchen for lunch

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!

A great burger & fries!

After lunch, we walked through the shops and picked up some information on Jeep rentals.  Jeep rentals

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!