The Million Dollar Highway

Trip Start Jul 22, 2005
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Trip End Aug 20, 2005


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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Friday, August 12, 2005

No one really knows how the Million Dollar Highway got its name. Some say it's because the terrain was so steep that it cost a million dollars per mile to lay down the road. Others will tell you that it's because the dirt they mixed into the asphalt was so mineral-laden that the highway itself actually contains a million dollars of gold dust right there in the pavement. Personally I don't care how the road got it's name because it's one of the most beautiful mountain roads I have driven.

Technically, the Million Dollar Highway refers to the 12 mile stretch of US 550 between Silverton and Ouray Colorado. The highway goes up and over Red Mountain Pass at an elevation of over 11,000 ft. These 12 miles took us over an hour because the road is steep and full of hairpin curves but also because we stopped every half mile to take pictures and marvel at the spectacular views of the red mountains all around us. The iron and minerals in the soil illuminated the countryside in shades of orange and red. The water flowing in the streams actually appeared silver because of all the minerals.

Just south of Silverton we went on a hike through the Weminuche Wilderness. We parked at a trailhead near Molas Pass, which is over 10,000ft. above sea level - so unlike many hikes we had great views from the very beginning. There were snow-capped peaks all around us as we walked through alpine meadows full of flowers of yellow, red, orange, and purple.

We did the hike in the morning, then drove on the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, a little town in the mountains that calls itself the "Switzerland of America." Later in the afternoon we drove west across the Utah border and camped near the Needles district of Canyonlands.
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