November 17, 2014
San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway
When Steve and I discovered the San Juan Skyway we were immediately interested. When we discovered the section called the Million Dollar Highway we knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive it. Considered one of America’s most dangerous roads, the Million Dollar Highway claimed to offer “jaw-dropping” views through the mountains, immense historical opportunities and scenic views that put other scenic byways to shame.
Located in Colorado, the San Juan Skyway is a 236 mile loop. We only drove half, starting at Cortez, Colorado and driving east to Durango where we took 550 North through the mountains. The first noteworthy part of the trip was just north of Durango when we entered the San Juan National Forest. Immediately we noticed changes as we began to ascend into the mountains. The aspen forest was a beautiful shade of yellow. We missed Autumn peak by a week or so, but there were still some leaves on the trees.
Twenty-nine miles north of Durango, well within the San Juan National Forest, is Andrew’s Lake. The elevation was around 10,750 feet. This is a very scenic spot, with snow capped mountains rising behind the trees and lake. From what we gather from the signs, it is also a very good fishing lake though it was pretty cold while we were there. There are also hiking trails in the area. I could have sat here all day just photographing the area. It was one of the prettiest views I have ever seen.
Continuing north and up in elevation to about 11,000 feet we reached Molas Pass. There is a place to park and an access point to a very beautiful overlook. The view is of the West Needle Mountains and the Granadier Range. Although I preferred Andrew’s Lake, I still recommend this as a stop along the way. It’s very easy to get to and just another one of those stunning views that merely hints at what’s ahead.
Silverton is a spectacular town, nestled in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. It’s such a surprise to come around a steep turn and see this town from high above. One of the things I loved about this town was the historical presence, felt even before you enter the town. There’s even a railroad station that goes between Silverton and Durango and has been running since 1881. We didn’t, but you can take the train for an even more scenic tour between the two towns. Silverton also marks the beginning of the Million Dollar Highway an entrance into the Umcompahgre National Forest.
Million Dollar Highway
The first sign you see when you leave Silverton is “Road Narrows”. It does. And the other thing that happens is the guard rails disappear. It doesn’t get any better as you continue north but we didn’t think it was that bad. Pay attention to the road, follow the speed limit and pay attention to the grades.
On the other side of the Million Dollar Highway is another historical town known for it’s hot springs. Ouray, although not as breath-taking as Silverton is a very impressive town. There is a huge waterfall, Box Canyon Falls, located within Ouray which you can view for around $5 per person. Downtown is also very historical, with old Victorian buildings.
While I wouldn’t say, to us at least, the San Juan Skyway and Million Dollar HIghway earned it’s label of one of America’s most dangerous roads, I would say that it is one of the most beautiful roads. We were impressed with the “jaw-dropping” views, gorgeous waterfalls, historical towns, abandon mines and so much more. I’d love to do this drive again and highly recommend it to anyone who seeks adventure.