Friday, October 3, 2014

San Juan Skyway, My OH My


From nearly 11,000 feet elevation, the view from Molas Pass along the “Million Dollar Highway”, US HIghway 550, is spectacular.  This is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway which we drove today from Durango, Colorado to Ouray, Colorado.  We had intended to continue north, then west and south past Telluride on to Cortez….but we enjoyed this part of the journey so much, we decided to turn around and do it again in reverse.  (No, not driving the car in reverse….just tracing our steps the other way.)  Here are just a few of the pictures we took…


The picture above, as you drive north, you drive right into the picture and then the road hairpins to the right at 15 miles per hour….you know it is a sharp turn when it is 15 mph!


The above picture is also from Molas Pass, you can see this in the first picture in the right side of the picture. 


This lake and mountain view is near Durango Mountain (Ski) Resort.


The above and below picture was taken from the turn out overlooking Ouray.


As you can see, the views along the 60+ miles of highway 550 that we drove are just out of this world.


And you can also see that everyone was out today observing the views.  Could you blame them?  Right after a snow storm, the sky as blue as blue can get, the colors of the trees hitting their prime….how could we (and all of them) be so lucky???


Here is the view of Silverton from jus north of Molas Pass.


There is a train line from Durango to Silverton which runs twice each day….next time we are in the area we are going to try and take it.  Here you can see both trains.  The one on the right had just dropped people off at the station (just out of view in the upper right of the picture) and is backing up around that corner.  The train to the left is then going to back into the station to pick people up for their return trip to Durnago.


The Denver – Rio Grand Railroad opened the narrow gage railroad from Durango to Silverton in 1882, bringing the cost of transporting the Silver and Gold and all the supplies it took to get the Silver and Gold out of the mountains down by 5 fold….thus saving the town of Silverton from extinction, as so many mining towns ended up as.  


Today Silverton thrives off of that same railroad which now brings tourist to the town…..the mining industry pretty much gone now.


Silverton is the county seat of San Juan County….in fact, it is the only incorporated municipality in the County of 699 people, 531 of which live in Silverton.


Ouray is a bit bigger than Silverton, with a population of 815 people, it is the county seat of Ouray County, which has a population of over 4,000 people.  Ouray got its name from Chief Ouray, a Ute Indian Chief of the Uncompahgre Tribe.  They may have named the town after him, but they took away his Colorado land and made his tribe move to Utah onto the reservation there….in the desert.

4a     4b

Ouray, which also started as a mining town, has transitioned into a summer vacation spot.  All of Main Street is on the National Historic Register, with most of the building dating back to the late 1800’s.  It bills itself as the "Switzerland of America" because of its setting at the narrow head of a valley, enclosed on three and a half sides by steep mountains.  Although it is far from the ski resorts, it does feature the nations first Ice Climbing Park, which is the number one attraction during the winter.  The mild summer nights and surrounding areas for jeep touring bring the people in for the summer.  And it is the unofficial start of the “Million Dollar Highway”, which brings bikers, and lovers of mountains, trees, waterfalls, and loads of blue sky down highway 550.  


Loads of color on the trees from Durango up to Ouray.

6b    6c

Left is Bear Creek Falls south of Ouray, and on the right this lady was playing on a large (40-50 foot high) rock just outside of Ouray.


This is the head frame of the “The Yankee Girl Mine”, which was one of the largest silver mines in America, and this one brought up such high quality silver that many times it went directly to the smelter.  It operated from 1882 to 1898, and in its 16 years it produced $12 million in silver….valued well over $100 million in today’s dollars.  You can see remains of mines through many areas of the drive.


We drove around 200 miles today, leaving at 9:45 and getting back after 7:00 (with a quick stop at Albertsons in Durango for a few items, including dinner.)  Our timing could not have been better, making this one of our all time favorite drives.  


  1. We love that drive! Thanks for the gorgeous photos.

    1. We took over 450 photos, I think the hardest thing was picking out the best ones.

  2. Wow what a great day. Really fabulous pictures. I know the problem of choosing. That's how my posts get so long. I think you would love the railroad. We didn't make it to beautiful Ouray although I really wanted to. Great information. I didn't know Ouray was larger than Silverton or that Silverton had less than 700 people and only 168 of them live outside of town. Sounds like my kind of place although the winters would do me in no doubt. Perhaps the summer tourists would too.

    1. We were thinking, "This area would be nice to live during the summer, perhaps May 1st through November 1st.....but I would not want to pay the taxes nor take that cold winter. Of course, with an RV, and work camping, that might be an idea some day.

  3. What clear, crisp pictures...I LOVE that drive! Maybe it's my favorite, LOL!

    1. Yes, it is a very nice drive....I would say it has to be on the top 10, but I would not want to rate them one through ten because that just does not sound fair. How does one compare this drive to California 1 between San Francisco and Santa Barbara area. Or this drive compared to driving around Lake Tahoe. Even this drive and driving through Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun drive. But this one would be in my top 10 for sure.

  4. When I took the train there, I took it both ways. Later I wished I had gone on the bus one way to see those gorgeous views. Next time.

    1. And we want to take the train to see what views we missed going that


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