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!
Ouray Lodge works to give the most up to date Fall information!
October is here, and the weather is still holding. The aspen trees are magnificent, even in areas where they have peaked and are now dopping leaves like the snow flakes soon to follow.
Every day, we at the Box Canyon Lodge try to get the most up to date information regarding where the leaves are at their best, and pass that information on to our guests. We also try to take drives ourselves, in order to have first hand knowledge to share with you, not to mention that we enjoy this time of year as well!
It is always a pleasure to hear from guests as they arrive at our doorstep of the fabulous colors the Aspens display. According to some folks who stayed with us earlier this week, the colors up on Owl Creek are pretty awesome on the Ridgway side. Great photo ops await!
The US forest Service is also a great resource, which we definately refer to as well.
The US Forest Service has issued the following status on foliage patterns for the San Juans.
Estimated Percentage of Current Fall Foliage:
Durango – 45% (90% oakbrush)
Purgatory - 95%
Molas - aspens - past peak
Silverton – aspens - past peak
Red Mountain Pass - past peak
Dallas Divide / Telluride - 90%
Pagosa / Wolf Creek Pass – 70% East Fork
Rico - 90%
Dolores – 45% (80% oakbrush)
Mancos – 75% (90% oakbrush)
Areas with Greatest Amount of Color / Recommended Viewing Areas:
Purgatory should be still good this week.
Mancos to Transfer is good this weekend.
East Fork of the San Juan North of Pagosa Springs.
A little lower to see color this week, and it is changing fast. Middle Mountain and Missionary Ridge aspens and oak going fast.
Estimated Peak Viewing Period:
Down from the passes this week will be good but will peak sometime soon.
Other passes/ high elevation aspen groves, currently have some good color but are passed prime.
Viewing Suggestions / Tips:
Plan on driving a bit to find the best spots. Around 9000 feet in elevation.
Trees That Are Currently Turning Color:
Aspens, grasses and low scrub oak.
Oak turned early and fast this year. It is good at the lower elevations where many trees have not started yet.
For More Information on Fall Colors Please Contact:
San Juan Public Lands Center, Durango (970) 247-4874
Welcome Fall with a trip through the most specatcular scenery, and make your home base the Box Canyon Lodge in Ouray. Relax in the soothing mineral hot springs after a day of exploring in the high country. Spend some time in the town itself, visit specialty shops second to none, and enjoy a marvelous dinner in one of the many dining extablishments on Main Street. Let us help make your Fall getaway the perfect adventure!
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.
Enjoy a Day of Fun in Telluride, Just A 1 Hour Drive from Ouray
Although Ouray and Telluride are less than 10 miles apart as the crow flies, the practical person takes a scenic drive along the San Juan Skyway over the Dallas Divide (second most photographed area in Colorado) and makes it to Telluride in less than one hour.
While in Telluride, take the free gondola ride that connects the two towns: Mountain Village and Telluride. Have a dog with you? Just make sure you get into the car marked as "pet friendly" and let your playful pooch enjoy the mountain air too! Want to take your bicycle? No problem, most cars are equipped with a bicycle transport rack on the outside of the car. And, the gondola ride is still free!
Midway through the ride, at the apex of route, get off and enjoy a nature center and some mountain top hiking trails and bike trails. You can also mountain bike your way to the bottom of the mountain.
Like Ouray, Telluride is a National Historic District and it was founded in the late 1800s with a deep rooted history in hard rock mining, but, unlike Ouray, Telluride has a sister town adjacent to it called Mountain Village. Mountain Village is a very contemporary, relatively new community with many resort amenities like those found in Vail or Breckenridge. The gondola serves as public transportation between the two towns and provides people with many unique experiences.
There are numerous restaurants and stores where you can shop, dine, and hang out. In Mountain Village, there is a jumping swing whereby kids can get clipped into a harness and jump, jump, and jump. There are lovely walking spaces, public art, and beautiful gardens too.
Telluride is home to festivals all summer long and has a very nice historical museum.
Part I: Ouray to Cortez
The San Juan Skyway is probably the prettiest drive in Colorado and encompasses such diversity of landscapes that it is a favorite year round. The San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway is a 236 mile journey (6 hours without too many stops) in Southwest Colorado and includes the towns of Ouray, Ridgway, Telluride, Dolores, Cortez, Durango and Silverton. Drive the circular route in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction and jump on anywhere. If you have a fear of heights, driving north from Silverton toward Ouray puts your car or motorcycle on the mountain side during the descent into Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway and many people prefer that side of the road.
This road is a fantastic ride for those on motorcycles too. The road is less traveled and the pavement quality is mostly good. However, the range of climates can be extreme so bring appropriate gear. You have to be prepared for thunderstorms at any point and the tops of the passes can be chilly (some might say cold), even in summer. Cortez is downright hot in summer.
The route I describe heads in a counterclockwise direction and starts in Ouray. Head north along US 550 until you reach Ridgway, a mere 10 miles away. Between Ouray and Ridgway, enjoy the "magic carpet", several miles of pasture that blanket the valley floor and notice the ranches. At the only traffic light in Ouray County, turn left on Highway 62. As you drive through Ridgway and cross the Uncompaghre River, notice the kayak park below as well as the nice river walk that leads you to the Ridgway State Park, several miles north of town. Pass Hartwell Park on your right; it was used to film in the filming of one of the scenes in the original version of True Grit.
Continue on Highway 62 west and drive parallel to the Sneffels Massif, an incredibly rugged mountain mass that takes your breath away. Standing prominently in the middle is Mt. Sneffels, a beautiful Colorado 14er (mountain higher than 14,000 feet) and the only one in Ouray County. This area is a photographers paradise and during the peak fall foliage season, this section of the drive provides some dramatic scenery; golden aspens juxtaposed with the jagged, snow dusted peaks. These mountains run along an east to west axis which is quite unusal for Colorado Mountains. At the top of the Dallas Divide, there is a scenic overlook. Stop there and enjoy the views. Head down the other side and in Placerville, turn left on Highway 145 and head towards Telluride.
Telluride is an old mining town with a huge ski area. It is broken into two small towns, Mountain Village and Telluride. You must detour about 2 miles to see downtown Telluride. The gondola runs free nearly year round and can be a fun stop (Public Transportation, Mountain Style!). You can catch it in either Mountain Village or Telluride.
Just past Telluride on Highway 145, Mt. Wilson is a prominent feature of the landscape. It too is a 14er. You can continue on this road and go over Lizard Head Pass, a lovely stretch of road with a mild approach on both sides and enter the town of Rico. From Rico, continue along the route that parallels the Dolores River and descend into the valley into Dolores.
While in Dolores, train afficianados will appreciate their fully operational Galloping Goose and train museum that was restored in the late 1990s. This train/car combination was part of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad that was conceived by Otto Mears.
The Anasazi Heritage Center is located near Dolores and provides families and heritage travelers great insight into the ancient puebloans. Their museum has interactive exhibits, including corn grinders, weaving looms, and computer games that provide hands on teaching. This museum, operated by the BLM, is world class. This museum also serves as a visitor center for those who want to explore Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, one of the largest concentrations of ruins of the Ancient Puebloan people. This area also has numerous hiking trails and outdoor adventures with the backdrops of the cedar forests and rocky cliffs. Get trail info from the Anasazi Heritage Center.
Once in Cortez, you are in Mesa Verde Country, which is the home to Mesa Verde National Park. (Photo courtesy of Mesa Verde Country and is of Balcony House Ladder Climb). An incredible array of preserved clif dwellings and 14 centuries of human history exist within the park and it is definitely worth a trip. You can stay in the park at the Far View Lodge and it is a favorite to those seeking to experience Mesa Verde. If you have interest in SW Colorado archaeology, then you should plan a few days in this area. There are other areas of interest including Lowery Pueblo, Hovenweep National Monument and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.
The towns of Mancos, Dolores, and Cortez also boast a strong agricultural tradition so you can visit ranches, farms, wineries, and farmer's markets too. There are also numerous festivals that happen in the area that make it a great stop on your trip to Southwest CO.
Part II: Cortez to Ouray is coming next week!