The Million Dollar Highway has been lauded in countless articles around the world for its scenery and breath taking twists and turns. Travellers far and wide are humbled by the drastic views and non-existent shoulders. The lack of guard rails may seem like some adrenaline junkies idea of a funny joke, but is in fact more for safety. Guard rails in the winter would result in heavier pileup of snow and black ice, which would make the pass impassable.
With several Projects in progress on Red Mountain Pass, one might think to avoid this scenic byway, but it is still open for travellers at select times.
In 2014, a massive rock slide closed Red Mountain Pass foran unprecedented amount of time. In the past, heavy snowfall and avalanche dangers have caused the road to be closed for a day or two, but with the amazing crew at the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), it has always managed to re-open in record time. These men and women maintain the highways of Colorado meticulously, despite often hazardous conditions, keeping our thoroughfares open and safe.
When the mountain decided to give us a new challenge with the rock slide, once again the teamwork and courage of CDOT and a number of contracted workers defied nature and were able to make the pass safe for travellers. This was just the beginning of the job though. Engineers and road workers have closely monitored the highway with bated breath, as they gathered resources and plans to permanently safeguard the highway as quickly as possible, given a very small window of time in which they could actually complete the job. In an added effort to complete needed work on the highway in an efficient manner, CDOT collaborated with San Miguel Power, devising a plan to address all of the necessary work on Highway 550 to correspond in order to minimize the unnavoidable inconvenience to travellers.
Currently, there are three (3) projects being completed on Highway 550 (Red Mountain Pass) at milepost 87-91 (MP 91 is one mile south of Ouray) : crib wall repairs, rock fence repair, and San Miguel Power Assoc power line repairs. The pass will be CLOSED 8:30 AM to noon and 1 PM to 5 PM. The pass is OPEN from noon to 1 PM (motorists must be in line by noon) and after 5 PM each weekday AND OPEN nights and weekends with alternating single lane traffic. Additionally, motorists will encounter single-lane, alternating traffic Mon-Fri daytime, for crib wall repairs near MP 88 and further south at MP 79, which is 9 miles north of Silverton.
Granted, this makes travelling the Million Dollar Highway a little bit more time consuming, but no less beautiful. With the Fall colors at close to peak this weekend, it is hard to imagine a better place to have to slow down and take your time! And don't forget all of the four-wheel drive trails are still open. County road 361, or Campbird Mine Road, is easily accessible right outside of Ouray. Take a trip over Imogene, which summits at over 13,000 feet, and deposits you in the town of Telluride, the a return trip over Ophir Pass, which takes you back to highway 550 on this side of Silverton. Depending on how you time it, you might be able to travel right back to Ouray, or perhaps go and have lunch at one of the great little restaurants in Silverton or Telluride before heading back to Ouray. Another great back country trail back from Telluride is Last Dollar Road. Not as extreme as Imogene or even Ophir, this road carries travellers through some of the most magnificent scnenery for Fall viewing before ending at the top of Dallas Divide on highway 62, just a few miles outside of Ridgway.
The number of options are absolutely limitless for color viewing in and around Ouray County this fall, despite the road closures on Red Mountain Pass. With so many choices, the restrictions on the pass need not dictate your schedule more than a little.
Let the staff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to plan the perfect Fall Escape this year! Give us a call, and we can discuss road conditions and a variety of options to ensure you the most memorable Ouray adventure.