After our stop in Ouray this morning we continued on US Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton on the “Million Dollar Highway”, perhaps one of the most breathtaking journeys you can travel by car! Originally built in 1883 by Otto Mears as a toll way from Ouray to the now abandoned town of Ironton, this two lane highway offers spectacular views of the San Juan Mountain Range, and Uncompaghre Gorge. The road was extended to connect Silverton and Ironton over Red Mountain pass and operated as a toll road until the early 1920’s when it was rebuilt and became part of the present day US Highway 550.
Depending on who you ask, the origin of the name “Million Dollar Highway” varies from one extreme to another. One person may tell you that the road cost a million dollars a mile to build, another that the land was purchased for a million dollars. Another legend states that the fill dirt used to build the highway contains over a million dollars worth of gold ore, however, my personal favorite (stated by a poor lady who had no idea what they would be traveling over) was that "she wouldn’t drive that road again in the winter for a million dollars".
Reaching an elevation of over 11,000 feet at the summit of Red Mountain Pass, with steep grades, hairpin curves and no guard rails, this scenic highway is not for the faint of heart, however, it is truly worth every mile. As we rounded each curve, the scenery amazed us again and again. There were many interpretive signs that gave us a glimpse into the mining era and the late 1800s. We finally reached the summit, at only 11,018 feet above sea level, and continued down the pass to enjoy the cute little town of Silverton. But I'll cover Silverton next time!