August 2, 2010
Today we have decided to drive north to Ouray along the Million Dollar Hwy. Legend has it that this section of the road was named when it was built back in the ’20’s from the cost associated with it…..a million dollars. This is a well traveled scenic byway drive that travels from Durango north past Ouray. However the section between Silverton (which is between the two) to Ouray is the most famous. This section of the road is narrow, steep, multiple switchback (sharp curves that switch you back the opposite direction), and very importantly ABSOLUTELY NO GUARDRAIL as you drive next to over 1000 ft drops. It is only about 25 miles but can only be traveled about 20 mph in most parts and so takes about an hour.
I am getting a little better at this mountain driving (or at least being the passenger). The drive between Durango and Silverton was very different than the train ride previously this week. When we visited Silverton earlier in the week the ranger provided us with some locations we might want to visit on the way. We will head first to Andrews Lake.
As we wind our way north on Hwy 550, we find ourselves in the most picturesque country you could ever imagine. The clouds are very low today…..either that we are so high that we are above them. Along the way we pass mountain meadows, tall aspens, country ski towns, and awesome view points.
Andrews Lake is about 3/4 of the way between Durango and Silverton. We arrive at Andrews Lake and find ourselves actually a little cold as we step outside the truck. We are currently at an altitude of about 10,700 ft. and the air is thinner and definitely about 15 degrees cooler. We have climbed about 3,000 ft. in the past hour. As we pulled into the parking area we find the lake to ourselves. We located the trail and headed down towards the lake. Andrew quickly became lost in the scenery with his camera so Shyla and decided to head on down to the lake by ourselves.
As we approached we found a small but stunning lake back dropped with mountains and clouds and surrounded by an abundance of flowers. I think I have died and gone to heaven. The air is so fresh and clean. The lake at this time of day was like a sheet of glass with the image of the distant mountains and clouds reflected off of it. On the far side we noticed a small fishing peer and seat and so Shyla and I slowly meandered around the lake. Along the way Shyla decided it was a good time to take a dip in the water. Trust her to find the water.
For the next hour I will admit I too found the scenery so entrancing that my finger never left the camera button. Eventually I realized that if I didn’t start back towards Andrew we may not meet our final destination today. Walking through the car park a truck pulling the smallest pop-up I ever seen pulled in. It could not have been more than 5 ft in length. It looked so dwarf compared to the truck and easier have fit in the bed of their truck. As we neared the parking area Andrew decided it was glamor shots time for Shyla and captured some cute shots of her standing on a rock overlooking the terrain. She is so patient about taking pictures and I always kid Andrew saying the she is his muse.
On our way again we neared Silverton. We have decided to bypass the town as we visited during the train trip and now heading on the famous section of the Hwy 550. The road really winds back and forth, cut directly into the side of the mountain. The road had to be driven slowly…..at least Andrew had instructions to drive it slowly. We had a serious discussion about speed limit. My thought is if the sign suggests the speed limit around a curve needs to be 25 mph…..well then there was a reason for it and we should head the warning and drive 25 or BETTER YET LESS. Andrew’s philosophy is that it is a suggested speed and if he feels comfortable driving faster then it is okay…..I believe I won that argument….just had to remind him about the Moki Dugway episode back in Utah.
We came upon a majestic lookout point and as the sun was shining at this point gave way to some charming pictures amongst the flowers.
About 5 miles south of Ouray we hit Red Mountain overpass. The elevation at this point is around 12,700. Red Mountain is actually a collection of three peaks and they derived their name from the color of their peaks that are covered in iron ore rocks. Located at the peak known as Red Mountain Pass we came upon a working silver/copper mine. The entire area is rich in silver and you will find numerous abandoned mines scattered everywhere. Here we found a very nice spot to stop the car and take some photos and learn some of the history of the area. They explained that the river rocks we had seen on our train trip that were orange are actually from metal waste from the mining.
Back on the road again we continued our journey and eventually found ourselves in the mountain town of Ouray. Ouray is also a mining town but it has grown and is now much more touristy. The town is nested down in a valley between numerous peaks. As we drove in we could see a waterfall falling from the top of a cliff right in town. We drove to visit it but the street was so steep and our brakes at this point was leaving such a lovely odor of metal on metal we decided against the added strain on them. Maybe next time. We stopped to stretch our legs and spotted a deer casually wandering through a yard foraging on the grass. As we watched he moved through two yards and then over to the other side of the street to see what was in store there.
It was getting late and we wished we had more time to explore Ouray rather just a casual glance but it was time to start our trip back as it would take a couple of hours. We originally thought we would be able to visit a few places but was not prepared for the amount of beauty that would grasp our attention along the drive. We decided today that this area has so much to offer and we will have plan to visit again. We made one finally stop along the way as the afternoon storms had again gathered on the peaks. We had stopped here earlier in the day when we took the shots of the beautiful flowers, however now the scene took on a whole different look and feel and we were drawn again to its beauty.
Along the trip back we passed a sign that we found worthy to mention. Wished we had stopped to take a picture of it but there was no where at the time. The sign said……”No Brakes Runaway Ramp exit 2 Miles Ahead”……I don’t know…..if I am without brakes and heading down hill like we were I would hate to have to wait 2 miles to be able to pull off……Especially if I am an 18 wheel!!!