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Author Topic: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango  (Read 16115 times)

andy3175

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #25 on: November 29, 2014, 12:15:23 AM »

US 550 Million Dollar Highway article on mountain safety:

http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20140624/NEWS01/140629751/Highway-to-hell-

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This month, USA Today named the Million Dollar Highway one of the "Top Ten Bucket List Road Trips" – a compliment to the beauty of Red Mountain Pass and an underhanded homage to its deadly track record.

Last year, USA Today pronounced the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Ouray one of the "World's 12 Most Dangerous Roads," a distinction Red Mountain Pass shares with the "Highway of Death" in Iraq and the “Death Road” in Bolivia.

In an editorial, MSN Autos, an online car site, calls it a "highway to hell."

"It's scary," said Nancy Shanks, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s spokeswoman for Region 5.

Red Mountain Pass, per mile, has the highest avalanche hazard on the North American Continent. The narrow two-lane road winds through the mountains like a drunk crazily stumbling, and there’s no guardrail to protect cars attempting hairpin turns from hurtling into the jagged ravines that lie, stunning and ominous, hundreds of feet below.

"People stop in and ask, 'Why are there no guardrails?' We explain there's no room because plows have to push the snow off the edge in winter," said Heidi Pankow, public relations manager for the Ouray Chamber Resort Association. ...

Although the speed limit is 15 mph for much of Red Mountain Pass, Shanks said more than 300 accidents took place there between 1995 and 2010. The majority occurred in dry conditions and involved only one vehicle. Eight accidents killed nine people, including five highway workers. ...

Colorado's highway engineers have struggled to make Red Mountain Pass safer for decades; recently, they've had more success. Shanks said no avalanches have killed humans on Red Mountain Pass since CDOT started working with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in 1992. Before then, it was a different story.

A question and answer section yields some historical info about the Million Dollar Highway:

Quote
Why was it deemed necessary to build the road? Extensive mining in the area of Ouray, Red Mountain, Silverton and Telluride provided the impetus for the original construction of the toll road. Railroads reached Silverton and Ouray, but transportation of ore to the railheads required a wagon road. Later, with motor vehicle travel predominating, this major north-south route through southwestern Colorado became a major contributor to commerce.
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texaskdog

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #26 on: December 01, 2014, 07:05:03 PM »

I love how if you look this up on google maps, the west-east road just south of it says "closed Jan-Dec" :P
« Last Edit: January 21, 2015, 01:38:31 AM by andy3175 »
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thenetwork

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #27 on: December 01, 2014, 09:57:49 PM »

I love how if you look this up on google maps, the west-east road just south of it says "closed Jan-Dec" :P

You're speaking of Forest Road 823, right (Black Bear Pass Summit Road)?  If you don't have a 4WD, High Clearance vehicle, then the Jan-Dec rule holds true!

Can't say I have driven US-550 in the winter months, but it's a nice drive in the summer, and for the handful of times I have driven it, I have never had any real time stuck behind any slow trucks or RVs <knock on wood>.

« Last Edit: January 21, 2015, 01:38:33 AM by andy3175 »
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J N Winkler

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #28 on: December 02, 2014, 11:34:00 AM »

It's actually an easier drive than US 160 over Wolf Creek Pass, because the curves are designed for low speeds (most drivers become more tolerant of high side friction demand the lower the speed is).  You do have to watch closely as your car bites into downslopes, and paddle shifters confer a huge convenience advantage.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2015, 01:38:35 AM by andy3175 »
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roadiejay

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #29 on: March 29, 2015, 08:40:07 PM »

My wife and I drove this stretch inadvertently on our road trip a little over a week ago. Coming home from Utah, we stayed in Grand Junction to avoid the outrageous lodging costs in Moab, then came south from there. I only realized this to be the "million dollar highway after seeing some souvenir mugs at a gas station in Ouray. It was snowing for much of the drive to Silverton, and a beautiful drive.

Back to the O/P, I too would recommend Northbound, as the southbound drive was somewhat white-knuckle with 99% of my attention focused intently on the road ahead.
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texaskdog

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #30 on: March 30, 2015, 07:46:15 AM »

Really?  We stayed in Moab in the summer for around $80.  Unless you call that outrageous.
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aboges26

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #31 on: March 30, 2015, 10:52:47 PM »

Really?  We stayed in Moab in the summer for around $80.  Unless you call that outrageous.

Summer is actually off season, spring and winter are the best times of the year to enjoy Moab because its not too hot and not too cold.  I stayed at Moab Canyonlands Campground about two weeks ago for $40 one night just so my girlfriend and I could enjoy showers, instead of paying $160+ rates at all the nearly full hotels.  We have spent Christmases in Moab before, off hand I remember paying around $90 a night after taxes at the La Quinta Inn.
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #32 on: March 30, 2015, 11:26:27 PM »

FWIW, I would recommend to anyone with four-wheel drive (or at least a real SUV and not a lame excuse for one) to drive Ophir Road between US-550 and CO-145. Ophir Pass is incredible.
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roadiejay

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #33 on: March 31, 2015, 12:14:07 AM »

Really?  We stayed in Moab in the summer for around $80.  Unless you call that outrageous.

Summer is actually off season, spring and winter are the best times of the year to enjoy Moab because its not too hot and not too cold.  I stayed at Moab Canyonlands Campground about two weeks ago for $40 one night just so my girlfriend and I could enjoy showers, instead of paying $160+ rates at all the nearly full hotels.  We have spent Christmases in Moab before, off hand I remember paying around $90 a night after taxes at the La Quinta Inn.

Yeah, we must've been passing thru in the middle of 4-wheelin' season or something, because I couldn't find a room in Moab online for less than $130.

I could've swung it, but I'd never been to Colorado, so I pretty much used the price of lodging as a dumb excuse to detour through GJ and Durango, and Farmington. all places I'd never seen. By the time we bought the million dollar hwy t-shirts, stickers and mugs, we spent a little more  :) :) :) Fun trip!!
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texaskdog

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #34 on: March 31, 2015, 08:50:46 AM »

Colorado Natl Monument is nice, too. 

We book trips month in advance, I don't know if that helps.
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #35 on: April 03, 2015, 06:49:11 PM »

Planning in advance definitely helps; the first four days of of our trip were booked and planned about two months in advance. Since we had the rest of the week off, we left it open to either coming straight home, or exploring new country. I'm glad we chose the latter option.
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andy3175

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #36 on: January 25, 2016, 12:12:20 AM »

More on US 550, the Million Dollar Highway, including its various hazards including avalanches and rock slides ... http://www.telluridenews.com/the_watch/article_169e9e56-b4ce-11e5-a154-37da427e13ca.html

Quote
U.S. Highway 550 is the official cartographer’s term for the 70-mile ribbon of asphalt connecting Ouray and Durango — but it goes by several other names, as well. 

San Juan Skyway, for instance, National Forest Scenic Byway. And, if you want to be dramatic, Highway to Hell.

That’s how the automobile website MSN Autos recently described it, echoing a number of Internet lists. For Popular Mechanics, the highway ranked No. 3 on “10 of America’s Most Dangerous Roads” in 2013. That same year, it was the only highway in the Lower 48 to make USA Today’s list of the “World’s Most Dangerous Roads.” The transportation blog RoadCrazed featured it on a list of “The Most Dangerous Highways in America.” YouTube users can find videos of trucks crossing 550’s center line and barreling down on terrified motorcyclists.

Still, the best known name for U.S. 550 as it crosses the San Juan Mountains is “Million Dollar Highway” — though nobody seems to agree, exactly, on how that name came to be.
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US 41

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #37 on: January 25, 2016, 09:27:58 AM »

I was riding shotgun when I was on this road about 2 years ago. We were going from Pagosa Springs to Fruita to go rafting on the Colorado River. What surprised me the most was the fact that there are almost no guardrails on the road. What's up with that?
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #38 on: January 25, 2016, 10:14:58 AM »

I was riding shotgun when I was on this road about 2 years ago. We were going from Pagosa Springs to Fruita to go rafting on the Colorado River. What surprised me the most was the fact that there are almost no guardrails on the road. What's up with that?
Cause that ain't comfy, pal.
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #39 on: January 25, 2016, 10:47:37 PM »

I was riding shotgun when I was on this road about 2 years ago. We were going from Pagosa Springs to Fruita to go rafting on the Colorado River. What surprised me the most was the fact that there are almost no guardrails on the road. What's up with that?
Guard rails inhibit pushing snow off the roadway. And, when they're doing avalanche control, this is even more significant. Just be careful out there.
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #40 on: January 28, 2016, 05:12:52 AM »

I did this in the days after the Front Range meet last year. I went northbound from Durango because I had heard it was slightly less nerve-inducing, but there are parts in both directions where there's only a white line between you and several hundred feet of death below.

I'd do that drive again in a heartbeat.
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roadiejay

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #41 on: January 31, 2016, 07:19:48 AM »

In all reality, I find the drive no more unnerving than US 191 between Clifton and Alpine, AZ...

aside from the fresh snow and icy patches I am to understand occur more frequently due to the extreme elevation, it seems like your garden variety mountain road... oh, and the avalanche overpass, that was pretty neat to look at.
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #42 on: January 31, 2016, 09:26:41 PM »

In all reality, I find the drive no more unnerving than US 191 between Clifton and Alpine, AZ...

aside from the fresh snow and icy patches I am to understand occur more frequently due to the extreme elevation, it seems like your garden variety mountain road... oh, and the avalanche overpass, that was pretty neat to look at.

I have driven the road twice and never noticed an avalanche overpass!  Where on the road might that be?

Are you or anyone else familiar with the Hogsback on UT-12 in southern Utah?  Its not nearly as long, but the short section on the narrow neck of the mesa and coming down from it sure spooked me worse than any spot on US 550, even coming up from Ouray to the pass.
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thenetwork

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #43 on: January 31, 2016, 10:49:20 PM »

In all reality, I find the drive no more unnerving than US 191 between Clifton and Alpine, AZ...

aside from the fresh snow and icy patches I am to understand occur more frequently due to the extreme elevation, it seems like your garden variety mountain road... oh, and the avalanche overpass, that was pretty neat to look at.

I have driven the road twice and never noticed an avalanche overpass!  Where on the road might that be?

Are you or anyone else familiar with the Hogsback on UT-12 in southern Utah?  Its not nearly as long, but the short section on the narrow neck of the mesa and coming down from it sure spooked me worse than any spot on US 550, even coming up from Ouray to the pass.

I will concur and say that US-550 between Ouray and Silverton is not that nerve-racking -- in the months when the road is clear and dry which is when I have driven it several times.  Yes there are some narrow lanes at times, but I have driven some roads more scarier as they were gravel, dirt and/or washboard surfaced single-laners.  Lands End Road connecting the Grand Mesa (Southeast of Grand Junction) and Whitewater is a great example.

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #44 on: February 01, 2016, 08:13:26 PM »

Are you or anyone else familiar with the Hogsback on UT-12 in southern Utah?  Its not nearly as long, but the short section on the narrow neck of the mesa and coming down from it sure spooked me worse than any spot on US 550, even coming up from Ouray to the pass.

Yeah, that is spectacular.  I think the lack of vegetation makes it seem even more precarious.
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J N Winkler

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #45 on: February 01, 2016, 11:54:40 PM »

I have driven the road twice and never noticed an avalanche overpass!  Where on the road might that be?

Near Ridgway, Colorado

Are you or anyone else familiar with the Hogsback on UT-12 in southern Utah?  Its not nearly as long, but the short section on the narrow neck of the mesa and coming down from it sure spooked me worse than any spot on US 550, even coming up from Ouray to the pass.

I have driven on the relevant length of Utah SR 12 and have only a vague memory of this feature; I think I took it in stride because I am used to flyover direct connectors with no ground objects in ready view on either side.
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roadiejay

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #46 on: February 03, 2016, 09:11:36 PM »



I have driven the road twice and never noticed an avalanche overpass!  Where on the road might that be?

Roughly speaking--- It's a few miles into the gorge, coming south from Ouray:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_550#/media/File:Avalanche_chute_overpass,_US-550.jpg
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #47 on: February 03, 2016, 10:37:52 PM »

It'd be interesting if the avalanche overwhelmed the chute and trapped cars under the overhang.
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J N Winkler

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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #48 on: February 04, 2016, 12:07:09 PM »

It'd be interesting if the avalanche overwhelmed the chute and trapped cars under the overhang.

It would indeed.  The presumption has to be that Colorado DOT (an agency which hangs on to a residue of sovereign immunity) has chosen the length of the shed after careful study to determine the edges of the slide area, including taking rock samples to assess the potential for weathering.

I personally don't have a problem trusting CDOT to have done this, partly because a relatively small proportion of my annual mileage is spent on its infrastructure.  But I can understand why others would have reservations, given very public failures such as the incompletely erected bridge girder in Denver that flipped onto its side and sagged down, essentially cutting in half a family passing on the freeway underneath.  The NTSB later found that CDOT had failed to maintain sufficiently tight control over shop drawings and erection procedure.
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Re: U.S. 550 from Ouray to Durango
« Reply #49 on: February 17, 2016, 08:22:38 PM »

In all reality, I find the drive no more unnerving than US 191 between Clifton and Alpine, AZ...


I actually took a roadtrip last May specifically to drive that stretch of highway!  I love the switchbacks, mountainous terrain and the views you get out there.  Probably my favorite 50 miles anywhere to drive.  I think the biggest allure is that traffic is so light I can go my own pace, whether it's gawking at scenery or seeing how the ol' car handles a sharp curve. 

I've driven 550 a few times and don't recall it being too unnerving, but I deliberately only went in summer months.  That said, I grew up in the mountains and learned to drive in that so I think I have a higher comfort level for it than some.
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