In the state of Colorado of the United States of America there’s a special highway built in the late 1930’s. The Million Dollar Highway, part of the San Juan Skyway, is 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). It’s fine as long as you don’t drive too fast for conditions. But if you do, the consequences are severe.
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 USA. The 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 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.
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 in the 1920s, 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 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.