Driving the Scenic Highways of Southwest Colorado is not as scary as you think.
The 76 miles of US Highway 550 between Durango and Ouray, Colorado, often referred to as the Million Dollar Highway, is a combination of three (3) mountain passes accross some of the most breathtaking scenery the country has to offer. One of the most frequently asked questions we get from our guests is whether the road will be open when they are planning to visit.
Our answer, regardless of the time of year is almost always YES. Because it is a State highway, and the only means of accessing the town of Silverton, nestled between Molas and Red Mountain Passes, the highway is maintained as a priority by CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation).
Of course, given where we live, and the fact that the summit of Red Mountain Pass is at over 11,000 feet, there are obviously times the road may have to be closed due to Mother Nature, who often likes to throw little "road blocks" at us. Of course, she doesn't take into consideration the tenacity of our amazing road crews. Typically, if the road has to be closed, it is only for a couple of hours while snow is cleared, or maintenance is performed. Whenever possible, maintenance is done during the wee hours of night so as to disrupt the least amount of travelers.
Frankly, who would want to drive this road at night anyway? With its dramatic drops and breathtaking views, this is a drive to be experienced in the full light of day! Regardless of the season, driving in Colorado is an adventure and a feast for the senses. All you need are a few things to make the drive safe and fun no matter what Mother Nature throws at you:
Believe me when I say, your camera will be your best friend on Highway 550! Whether you live here, or this is your first visit, there are so many sights to see and capture. Around each bend, your breath will catch at an entirely new view. Every season is rife with opportunities to exercise your photographic abilities, and you don't have to be a professional because it is close to impossible to take a bad picture here! Driving along the Million Dollar Highway, panoramic views are all there are. From following the curves of the road behind you, to wildlife who seem to be waiting for you to get their best angle, your camera is your best friend as you traverse every curve.
2. Good Tires
It doesn't matter where you are traveling, good tires should always be foremost in your mind. First of all, a good all season tire gives traction and control to the driver that may contribute significantly to the amount of enjoyment you get from the drive. Winter travelers might consider more specialized tires, designed for snow travel, but this is often an unnecessary expense if you are visiting for just a couple of days, then heading back to Phoenix. Surprisingly, snow chains are moderately affordable, and will provide any additional traction and security for traversing the high mountain passes in wintry weather. Another thing to remember is that good tires actually help increase gas mileage and decrease wear and tear on your engine.
3. Front Wheel Drive
Believe it or not, everyone in Colorado does not own a four wheel drive vehicle. Front wheel drive cars are usually more than adequate for travel any time of year along scenic highways. Granted, four wheel drive or even all wheel drive vehicles are great to have, and will add to your confidence in extreme weather conditions, but honestly, adverse weather in Colorado doesn't actually last all that long. There is a saying in Southwest Colorado, "If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes, or drive ten miles." It couldn't be more true! Highway 550 is also an extremely popular scenic byway for motorcycle enthusiasts in the summer months. With its twisting, well graded meandering, it is an ideal adventure for any driver!
4. Windshield Washer Fluid
Sounds silly, but trust me. There is nothing worse than running out of windshield washer fluid as you are following along a string of cars on a rainy day. Almost instantly, the back splash from the car in front of you has mixed with highway dust, and created close to no visibility. Make is a point to top off before getting on the road, and always have an extra gallon in the trunk.
5. Common Sense
This is not meant to be insulting, nor to discount that sometimes accidents just happen. But, you wouldn't put your head in a tigers mouth(unless you are Siegfried or Roy), so consequently, when the sign says 15 miles an hour with a drawing of what looks like a pretzel, go ahead and slow down. I once asked a police officer, and he told me the largest number of accidents that occur on the Million Dollar Highway involved locals who have taken the road for granted, and forgotten how deceivingly beautiful it is. The fact is, just around any blind corner, there is always the possibility of some surprise waiting for you. Now, when approached at the specified speed limit, you will have more time to react to the Bambi convention at the summit by slowing down without a screeching of locked brakes and smoking tires.
The Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, nestled in the southwest corner of Ouray, is the perfect resting place after a day of exploring the outstanding beauty of the San Juan Mountains! Let us be your home away from home, as you soak away the open road in our all natural mineral hot spring tubs, then stuggle up in your room to enjoy a movie or two chosen from our video library. Let our helpful front desk staff assist you in planning the perfect escape in this remarkable mountain town!
Scenic Southwest Charity Tour travels the Million Dollar Highway!
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (March 27, 2012) – The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America announced today the course for its April 28 – May 4 cross-country motorcycle trek. More than 175 riders will join the 18th anniversary ride beginning in Napa, Cal., and travel over 2,500 miles before finishing at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Founded by former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Petty, the Charity Ride raises funds and awareness for Victory Junction, a camp created to benefit children with chronic or life threatening illnesses.
In 2012, for the first time riders will pass among the sprawling redwood forests of California and travel both "The Loneliest Road in America" (U.S. Highway 50) and "The Million Dollar Highway" (U.S. Route 550). In addition to 25 planned fuel stops, the 2012 Charity Ride route will make overnight visits in Redding, Cal.; Reno, Nev.; Richfield, Utah; Grand Junction, Co.; Albuquerque, N.M.;and Lubbock, Texas.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner (2009, 2012) Matt Kenseth, former NFL great and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, Texas Motor Speedway President and General Manager Eddie Gossage, NASCAR legend Harry Gant and former NBA star and NASCAR team owner Brad Daugherty also plan to participate for all (or part) of this year's ride.
"The Kyle Petty Charity Ride makes a real difference in children's lives," said Walker, who's participating in his seventh event in 2012. "It's not only the kids we visit with along the route, it's the donations that help sponsor thousands of trips to Victory Junction that make this ride so special."
Past notable riders include Robin Pemberton, Vice President of Competition, NASCAR; 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart; NASCAR drivers Michael Waltrip, Geoff Bodine, Steve Park, and Kenny Schrader; supermodel Niki Taylor; PGA golfer Davis Love III; Orange County Chopper co-founder Paul Teutul, Sr., among others. Since 1995, more than 7,000 riders have logged 10.1 million cumulative miles alongside Petty and donated more than $14.5 million to primary beneficiary Victory Junction and other charities that support chronically ill children.
Fans and spectators along the Charity Ride route can contribute through the "Small Change. Big Impact." program, which accepts donations at the Ride's pit stop locations. The public can also make a $10 donation by texting RIDE to 27722. Reply to the confirmation text with the word YES to confirm the donation, and $10 will appear on the user's wireless bill or will be deducted from a prepaid balance. Online donations are also accepted at http://www.kylepettycharityride.com/donate.php.
The 2012 Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America is made possible by sponsors Coca-Cola, Pilot Flying J, Racing Electronics, WinCraft Racing and FLUIDYNE Racing Products, Freightliner, Krispy Kreme and FGX International.
To follow Petty and the riders live, fans should visit facebook.com/KPCharityRide or follow Kyle and the ride on Twitter:@kylepetty and @kpcharityride. For detailed information on Ride pit stops, or for more information on Victory Junction and the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, visit kylepettcharityride.com.
2012 Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America Schedule
Day 1 Saturday, April 28 Napa, Cal., to Redding, Cal.
Day 2 Sunday, April 29 Redding, Cal., to Reno, Nev.
Day 3 Monday, April 30 Reno, Nev., to Richfield, Utah
Day 4 Tuesday, May 1 Richfield, Utah, to Grand Junction, Co.
Day 5 Wednesday, May 2 Grand Junction, Co., to Albuquerque, N.M.
Day 6 Thursday, May 3 Albuquerque, N.M., to Lubbock, Texas
Day 7 Friday, May 4 Lubbock, Texas, to Fort Worth, Texas
For more media information, visit www.kylepettycharityride.com/press_kit.php.
About The Kyle Petty Charity Ride
Led by NASCAR driver and racing analyst Kyle Petty, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America raises awareness of and funds for Victory Junction and other charities supporting chronically ill children. The Charity Ride is one of the most successful and popular charity events in the country. Now in its 18th year, the Charity Ride has donated more than $14.5 million to Victory Junction and other children's charities, with 7,000 participants logging more than 10.1 million cumulative motorcycle miles. For more information about the Charity Ride, please visit www.kylepettycharityride.com.
About Victory Junction
Victory Junction is a year-round camping environment for children ages six to 16 with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses. Founded by the Petty family in honor of their son Adam, the camp is located in Randleman, N.C., with a second location opening soon in Kansas City, Kan. Victory Junction offers programs for a range of disease groups and maintains strong relationships with more than 30 partner hospitals. Victory Junction's mission is to provide life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering, in a safe and medically sound environment. As a not-for-profit organization, the camp operates solely through the support of generous individuals, groups and corporations to provide this experience at no charge to children and their families. For more information or to donate, visit www.victoryjunction.org.
Off the Beaten Path 4WD and Motorcycle Roads in Ouray County Colorado for Wildflower Viewing and Fall Foliage
Ouray County Roads 2 and 4 are often overlooked by visitors who want to climb to dizzying heights in the San Juan mountains. Now don’t get me wrong, because I love doing the same thing. But close to home are two readily-accessible roads that offer access to Billy Creek State Wildlife Area, along with spectacular views and wildflowers. The roads, shown in the GPS track below, are easily reached from US Hwy 550, just north of the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground at Ridgway State Park. This post tells you how to find these great roads and gives you a sample of the views and wildflowers I captured on camera on a mid June afternoon.
Let’s suppose you’re renting a Jeep, but that’s tomorrow. What to do today? If you have a conventional 2-wheel-drive sedan, you can easily travel up County Road 2 and also up to the top of the ridge on County Road 4B, enjoy the incredible views, then turn around and retrace your steps. The road is a bit rutted, but time will knock the ruts down even more. Now, let’s suppose that while you’re waiting for that Jeep you have your SUV or pickup truck. You can easily add County Road 4 to your itinerary and see even more. Pay attention to where there are some rocks embedded in the road surface and you’ll be fine—I don’t recommend it for low-clearance highway vehicles like our Prius. If you take your dual-sport or dirt motorcycle, note that there is some scree. Also note that parts of CR 4 border private property, so please obey the “no trespassing” signs and stay on the road. Also please note that vehicles going uphill have the right of way (but use common sense).
From Ouray, drive north to Ridgway. Keep on going, about nine miles. You’ll pass the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk campground—in another half mile you’ll find the turn onto County Road 4. If you’d prefer the tamer County Road 2, travel a couple miles further north on US Hwy 550 and you’ll see this sign on the east side of the road near a small collection of homes and the big metal maintenance building for Billy Creek.
Before looking at the wildflowers, let’s take a look at the GPS track below that highlights both roads. You may want to print this map and take it with you.
Note there are primitive campsites near the intersection of CR 2 and CR 4A. Observe the signs. If you’re bringing ATVs along, this is where you’ll want to park and unload.
Above: The view from the parking area at the easternmost end of CR 2. In the fall this field is dotted with hay rolls and is gorgeous. It's quiet here and there's plenty of room to park, plus a trail to go further into Billy Creek on foot or horseback.
When I was up there yesterday evening, I found wildflowers everywhere, especially up toward the intersection of CR 4A and CR 4. I stopped to take a picture of one and ended up spending quite a bit of time capturing pictures of others.
So, there you go! A low key, straightforward ride through some beautiful areas with gorgeous views. This is one of my favorite rides!
Below: Pinion Pines Biome on County Road 4.
About the Author: Dave Casler is an avid motorcycle rider (both dirt and street) and lives in Ouray County. He has the very best website documenting the roads of Ouray County for motor enthusiasts. He also has information on routes in Montrose County as well as San Juan County (Silverton), Hinsdale (Lake City) and San Miguel County (Telluride). All 4WD enthusiasts will appreciate his GPS maps and documentation of routes although he specializes in motorcycles.