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The two RV Gypsies drove the
Million Dollar Highway
(in their toad, not in their RV)
on their way to Red Mountain
.
August 27, 2012
sign: highway 550Highway 550 - the Million Dollar Highway

U.S. Route 550 is a spur of U.S. Highway 50 that runs from Bernalillo, New Mexico to Montrose, Colorado in the western United States. Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of RED MOUNTAIN PASS which gains the highway its name.

This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic?”many cut directly into the sides of mountains. During this ascent, the remains of the Idarado Mine are visible (see photos below). Travel south from Ouray to Silverton allows drivers to hug the inside of curves; travel north from Silverton to Ouray perches drivers on the vertiginous outside edge of the highway. Large RVs travel in both directions, which adds a degree of excitement (or danger) to people in cars.

The Million Dollar Highway
sign to honor Otto Mears, who built this road

The two RV Gypsies drove the “Million Dollar Highway” after visiting Ouray Hot Springs (pronounced your-ray) and stopped at a lookout point and learned that it was also the “Switzerland of America” according to the sign.

sign: Switzerland of America Look Out Point in Ouray, Colorado
view of Ouray from Look out Point
Karen Duquette at Look Out Point overlooking Ouray
a nasty noisy bird
the town of Ouray
looking down from Look Out Point

Red Mountain Pass as seen from Highway 550

Red Mountain Pass as seen from Highwy 550
Red Mountain Pass as seen from Highwy 550
tunnel
tunnel
sign: Bear Creek Falls

Bear Creek Falls is located just a few miles south of Ouray, Colorado on State Highway 550. The road turns to the left with a dirt lot to the right, and the road actually drives on a bridge over the top of Bear Creek Falls.

Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls and bridge
looking down from the bridge by Bear Creek Falls
more waterfalls on the mountain by Bear Creek Falls

looking straight down from the waterfall

a close-up view of part of the above photo

looking straight down from the waterfall
a close-up view of part of the above photo

The red dirt washes down the side of the cliffs and gives the water a gold look.

the water has a gold look

Just a few curvy corners away from Bear Creek Falls, the two RV Gypsies spot a small golden stream and decided to stop to photograph the beautiful scenery.

small golden stream
small golden stream
small golden stream
small golden stream

Back on the Red Mountain Pass road again, and past mountains covered in green.

mountain covered in green

Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado, has an elevation of 11,018 feet.

The pass straddles a divide that separates Ouray and San Juan counties. The pass is named for the nearby Red Mountain 1, 2 and, 3 on the northeast side of the pass. The name is derived from the iron oxide laden rock that forms their slopes.

The pass separates the Uncompahgre and Las Animas River watersheds, and also serves as a dividing point between the Uncompahgre and San Juan National Forests. The pass is traversed by the Million Dollar Highway, U.S. Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton, which is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway.

The pass is known for being treacherous in the wintertime due to the steep 8% grade and switchbacks on the north side facing Ouray, though the entire road is paved. But even without winter and snow, it is still a difficult road to drive. In addition, there are very few guardrails on this side and passing is difficult, if not impossible.

the three red mountains

The two RV Gypsies got their first look at the first Red Mountain.

red mountain
red mountain
red mountain

The two RV Gypsies stopped to eat their picnic lunch. They crossed a small bridge and took photographs from each side of the bridge.

view from a small bridge
view from a small bridge

After crossing the small bridge, the two RV Gypsies took a few photos of Red Mountain, then ate their lunch in the car because it was only 58 degrees outside, and since they had just come from the town of Ouray and the Ouray Hot Springs where it was warm, they were dressed in shorts.

Red Mountain
Red Mountain

A few rain sprinkles greeted the two RV Gypsies. It was a dreary looking day.

Red Mountain

Red Mountain Mining Overlook on the Million Dollar Highway.

sign about the boom town on Red Mountain
Red Mountain Mining Overlook on the Million Dollar Hwy
Red Mountain Mining Overlook on the Million Dollar Hwy
Red Mountain Mining Overlook on the Million Dollar Hwy

The rain sprinkles soon turned into a pouring rain, so the two RV Gypsies relaxed in their car for awhile until they finally put on ponchos and took in the sites of the Red Mountain Mining Overlook and the Idarado Mine ruins.

sign: Historic Colorado Mining Country

The Idarado Mine was a gold mining operation in the San Juan Mountains of Ouray County, Colorado. The remains of the operation are visible from the Million Dollar Highway, north of Red Mountain Pass, between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. (The tunnels of the Idarado extend some 5 miles west under 13,000 foot mountains to the Pandora Mill near Telluride, a trip of more than 60 miles by highway, which the two RV Gypsies did not drive.) But below are some photos of the remains of the operation.

Idarado Mine, Yankee Girl mine

By the time that the two RV Gypsies reached the Idarado mine, it had stopped raining and they found that the mine still had a great deal of infrastructure and some houses sort-of intact. Large silver chimneys were discovered here in 1882 and within a few years, six different towns grew up around the pass, including Guston and Ironton. The most prosperous mine in the 1880s was the Yankee Girl; its headframe is still intact.

Mine waste, below the Yankee Girl headframe
on Red Mountain No. 2

Idarado Mine trestle

Mine waste, below the Yankee Girl headframe
Idarado Mine trestle

The below photos were taken while it was still raining.

Red Mountain, Idarado Mine trestle, and Yankee Girl
Red Mountain, Idarado Mine trestle, and Yankee Girl
mine trestle

Heading back towards Ouray, the two RV Gypsies drove through an overpass that serves as an active avalanche chute on the Million Dollar Highway.

an overpass for an active avalanche chute on the Million Dollar Highway
curvy Million Dollar Highway
curvy Million Dollar Highway and steep dropoff
mining leftovers
mining leftovers

Looking up on the mountain, the two RV Gypsies noticed a house with laundry hanging outside. So Karen took a photo, then zoomed in on it to see the sign on the house "Antiques for Sale" - The two RV Gypsies do not know any of the history of the house, but it was obviously not in a place that is easily reachable, so the two RV Gypsies guess it to be some kind of a joke.

a house with laundry hanging outside
a house with laundry hanging outside
look below

go back to the Colorado Menu page Please return to the Colorado menu page for more adventures of the two RV Gypsies in Colorado, or you can jump ahead to Arizona if you so choose.