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 across 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 it 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, who 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, 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 a 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 struggle 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!