Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ouray Colorado and the Million Dollar Highway



Beautiful Ouray, Colorado (pronounced U-ray) is also known as the "Switzerland of America," as the mountains and canyons surrounding Ouray are filled with some of the West's most unforgettable scenery.  (All photos and photo collages in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)


The town is set at the narrow head of a valley, enclosed on three and a half sides by steep mountains.


The town of Ouray was originally established by miners looking for silver and gold in the surrounding mountains. At its height there were over 30 established mines. The town was incorporated in 1876, and named after Chief Ouray of the Utes Native American tribe. Located at the narrow head of a valley, Ouray is surrounded on three sides by towering peaks, some 13,000 feet high.


The entirety of Main Street is registered as a National Historic District, with most of the buildings dating back to the late nineteenth century. Click to enlarge to read this placard that shows the buildings of Ouray's early times.


The Beaumont Hotel, the Ouray County Couthouse, the Wright Opera House and many other ornate buildings and houses bring charm and history to the town. There is also  Ouray Hot Springs pool open year round in town--a million gallon pool of sulfur free mineral water.  We were tempted to visit the hot springs pool, as we did in Steamboat, but decided to take a scenic drive along the Million Dollar Highway instead


No one is sure how the Million Dollar Highway got its name. It is about a 25 mile portion of US 550 between Ouray and Silverton., and part of the San Juan Scenic Skyway. Some guess it took a million dollars to build, or that the road fill dirt contains about a million dollars of gold ore, and some say it would take a million dollars to make them ride over this narrow two lane highway.


Originally built in 1883 by Otto Mears as a toll way from Ouray to the now abandoned town of Ironton. The road was extended to connect Silverton and Ironton over Red Mountain Pass,


The highway offers spectacular views of the San Juan Mountain Range and the Uncompahgre Gorge.  The photo above shows a look back on the road we just traveled., on the right, which shows how the road hugs the mountain peak.


In fact, the road cuts through the mountain at points and through tunnels built at points where there are frequent avalanches.  Even though we took this ride in late November, there was already significant snow and ice in the mountains and along the highway


The views were gorgeous!


High mountain peaks on the right and left--it was easy to see why this area is called the Switzerland of America!


Some of the areas we passed through had large aspen groves, which must be so colorful in early autumn.


Magnificent vistas...


...of high peaks....


...and forests.



Loved this view of Mt. Sneffels, 14154 feet high!



We thought we'd drive on the Million Dollar Highway all the way through to Silverton, but the weather ahead began to look threatening when we were just few miles away.  Since more snow was predicted that day, we used a turn out to turn around and go back to Ouray. 


There was a lot of ice and icicles hanging off Red Mountain.  It is easy to see why Ouray is the ice climbing capital of the US. The world's first ice climbing park consists of dozens of frozen waterfalls from 80 to 200 feet high, along a mile of the Uncompahgre Gorge. The Ouray Ice Park is free, and attracts climbers from around the world!


 Red Mountain gets its name from the red iron ore  in it. 


Back towards the very narrow and curving Red Mountain Pass. The Million Dollar Highway is considered by many to be one of the most dangerous roads to drive,....


...but it handles an average daily traffic count of 2200 cars a day, and is a vital roadway for the area. The log hauler truck, seen in the photo above was just a short distance in front of us on our way back.


Before entering Ouray we stopped at a pull out to take photos by the historical markers at the end of the Million Dollar Highway.  As you can see the wind was blowing and the storm was approaching. We looked forward to going back to the house we rented in Ridgway and sit by the fireplace and heat up some warm food. We loved our visit to Ouray and hope to come back some day to visit it in other seasons.  

My next blog post I'll show some sights from Ridgway, Colorado--the town often used for early Western movie backdrops and where John Wayne starred in  the movie"True Grit." Come back soon!


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56 comments:

The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen said...

Pat, I really enjoyed the trip to Ouray. Your photographs are beautiful of this gorgeous area! The curving road with the log truck certainly points to the danger of this highway. I have not visited this area and you certainly make me want to! ♥

happywonderer.com said...

Beautiful Pat. So far so good with the Broncos at eh superbowl. Hope they win for you!

Roz Corieri Paige said...

My husband and I took our kids (in middle school at the time) to the 4 Corners in 1994 and we drove the Million Dollar Highway and visited Ouray. Sitting in the passenger seat while driving on the outside lane and looking down, I don't think that I was ever so nervous in my life! It is truly gorgeous, but I like it best seen from the inside lane that hugs the mountainside. We have such a beautiful country and your posts continue to show it to us, Pat!

Kris said...

SO picturesque!!!!
xo Kris

Linda W. said...

Oh so beautiful! Someplace I'd love to visit - especially in fall when those aspens are turning colors.

Cathy Keller said...

Thank you again for a wonderful tour of Colorado's beautiful mountains! Wishing you the best of weeks!

annie said...

Always beautiful photos.
The town looks like a toy town!
I am so glad you share these things. It really means a lot to be able to see all these wonderful things.

Daniela said...

I love the Historic District, it talks about a so recent past we have only seen in films !
How much snow and ice your mountains still have, what a majestic Nature you've the fortune to enjoy, my darling !
May your week be blessed with much joy, my marvelous Pat,
sending love to you,
with so much thankfulness
Dany

Gracie said...

What a beautiful scenario!!! Such an amazing place to visit, in all seasons.

eileeninmd said...

Hello Pat, what a cute town. The scenic views are gorgeous. I would like to take a roadtrip through the mountains there in the summer. The icicles are amazing, it must be cold there. Happy Monday, have a great new week ahead!

The Furry Gnome said...

What a soectacular ride! Love all the icicles!

Linda Kay said...

I do so love the mountains. We are planning a trip west this summer, so might have to see if we can pass this way.

SmilingSally said...

Hi Pat,

How gorgeous! Thanks for sharing. It does look like a small village in Switzerland.

Thanks for playing today.

Have a Beautiful Blue Monday!

jeannettestgermain said...

Beautiful account of your trip!
Since I'm a European and visited Switzerland (long time ago), the title of the Switzerland of the USA is apt! Me thinks it's the rock formations and the cute buildings that are so reminiscent of Switzerland. Have seen the icicles of the red mountain last week on a blog, but now i understand why the icicles were yellowish/reddish:):)

Cranberry Morning said...

Oh my goodness! The scenery is just beautiful!!! But you would never find me on the Million Dollar Highway unless I were bound and gagged and forced by gunpoint to be on that road. We were in Colorado once on some RR road in our van and it was the most terrifying experience. But I do love it that brave souls like you travel there and take photos so that a chicken like me can see them. My brother lives in Denver, and we've gone into the mountains a few times, but I'm always very glad to get down to safe ground. :-)

riitta k said...

Oh my, what views!!! I never have experienced anything like this. Lucky you!

Donna said...

My goodness...the Switzerland of America. And I love the history of the place. Those historic buildings are so beautiful. I love historic buildings like these and I am adding this spot to my must see in CO list!

Donna@GardensEyeView
and LivingFromHappiness

Barb said...

Love your photos of Ouray and surroundings. I haven't visited there in many years. It does look like those groves would be spectacular in autumn.

Joy H said...

Beautiful photos of a beautiful place! Have a Happy Valentines Day!
Joy @ Books and Life

Shelia said...

Hi Pat! Oh, I've so enjoyed touring with you! How beautiful! I'm sure you're loving Colorado. Would you believe we've only had a couple of inches of snow this winter? All of the huge snow storms missed us! My hubby is very sad about that. Thanks for popping in to see me.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

Oh this was fun...such amazing scenery and historical buildings. I would not be comfortable on that scary highway, though!

Lisa Kerner said...

Such a beautiful part of the US and CO. I can not wait to get to this area someday to explore it. Switzerland was one of our favorites in our Europe tours so it woudl be super fun to visit this area. Thanks for the little tour.

Lisa at Life Thru the Lens

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Such beautiful scenery and great explanations of the history. We've done that drive, but not in the winter. It really is amazing. I remember when I was blogging about the highway trying to think why it was called that and no wonder I couldn't remember learning the reason.

In addition to your spectacular Colorado mountain scenery, I'm also impressed with the tunnel shots. I have tried so many times to get a picture capturing that neat feeling you get when you (literally) see the light at the end of the tunnel, but mine never turn out even half as good as yours did.

bettyl-NZ said...

I LOVE to wander through towns like that! The snowy views are just spectacular.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

You are a great tour guide. It has been decades since I have been on the million dollar highway but I remember it as spectacular and scary.

I have never been on it on the winter. Much different look to it.

Great post.

DeniseinVA said...

Hi Pat, your photos are stunning and all that breathtaking scenery is definitely a wow. Have a great week :)

Judith @ Lavender Cottage said...

Spectacular scenery as usual Pat, especially the traffic archway cut from the rock.

NC Sue said...

It certainly looks lovely!
Thank you for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/02/potted.html

Ruth Rieckehoff said...

I have always wanted to visit these area. I am not going to lie. The road freaks me a bit. I will have to close my eyes on certain parts.

Pondside said...

What a beautiful drive that is, Pat. I don't know that I'd ever try it in late fall or winter, though! I am always amazed at how sophisticated some of these old towns were in their early days. An opera house was quite an investment, but it meant that travelling entertainers would stop by. I loved the shot of Ouray with the small opening in the wall of mountains.

Jeanne said...

Hi Pat, I enjoyed your post and the awesome photos you shared. I hope we can go back to Colorado again and visit some of the wonderful places you have seen and shared. We have seen many parts of Colorado in all the years of skiing but there is much more to see.

We have so much respect for Peyton Manning and we are honestly happy for his win after the many years he has spent in his football career. We believe he is a very fine man and he has done wonderful things for people who need help and organizations that provide charity assistance as well. As far as the halftime show and the media saying there was a message in Beyonce's performance,it went over my head. Of course we rooted for the Panthers but there is always next year for them. They have a great quarterback and probably a good future ahead. Time will tell.

I hope you feel better soon. We used to have our grands around us for their growing up years and we miss that so much. We lived in Fl. then. Catching a bug from them was a given. Now, all but one of the younger six grands are in college and they have their own lives to enjoy and learn.

We are planning a trip to TX in early summer to see our new great granddaughter. We can't wait. It is hard to be so far away.

Have a great week.
Hugs,
Jeanne

elizabeth said...

What a beautiful place!

ladyfi said...

Magnificent, fabulous, gorgeous!

Jeannie Marie said...

Your view of the mountains are so amazing! I really enjoy a blog post like this, learning about your town.

June Caedmon said...

What an adventure, Pat! I think you were wise to turn around when you did. We were in CO a couple of years ago in October, and the aspens were breathtaking. As are your mountain views - well captured!

Sally Wessely said...

I loved seeing all of your photos of Million Dollar Highway. I haven't been over it since I was a young girl. My husband listened to some local yokel in Ouray who filled him full of stories about how dangerous the road is and how many people are killed on it each year. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he did not trust my word on the drive by that point. He is not one drive in the mountains, and since I grew up driving the mountains of Colorado in all kinds of weather, I will tackle most anything in mountain driving. I doubt I'll ever get him on that particular highway. He nearly died when I drove him over Independence Pass.

Willow said...

Colorado is beautiful an full of Western history!

Sue/the view from great island said...

You've completely enticed me --- I need to make this trip some day!

Mersad said...

What an amazing experience. The Colorado mountains have always been interesting to me, and I read about the Million Dollar Highway in my travel guides when we prepared our own road trip. Unfortunately we didn't have time to drive down that road. Thank you for linking in with "Through My Lens".

Mersad
Mersad Donko Photography

Jacqueline said...

Reminds me of Park City, our silver mining town. The houses are so pretty! You are always so fun to travel around wherever you live and share it with us.

Marie C said...

As I mentioned before...a favorite, magical place for us! I'm so glad you posted about it. Love that I got to see it in the snow again!!!! Thank you!

Gayle atMuldoon said...

Very interesting facts and the photos are wonderful

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

You are right, it does remind one of Switzerland. That windy road looks scary, especially if you're the driver. Better you & Vinnie than me.

Happy Valentine's Day. I really enjoy seeing how much you are enjoying your grandchildren on FB.
Sam

Crafty Green Poet said...

Amazing photos, what a beautiful place

Light and Voices said...

Always bedazzled by your wonderful photos and the great addition of your lovely descriptions of place.
JM, IL

Betsy Adams said...

SO SO SO SO gorgeous... There are so many areas in Colorado where I want to visit sometime. That is just another special one... WOW..... Would love it...

Those ice formations are amazing...

Thanks for sharing --and congrats to the Broncos.

Hugs,
Betsy

Al said...

That is such a lovely part of the state - I must get back there one of these years. That highway is special!

diane b said...

My goodness that road looks awful scary. The views and mountains are awesome and similar to Switzerland. We have a Swiss friend who is a ski instructor in Colorado but not sure where. He is a chef in the off season.

ladyfi said...

What a delightful place! Gorgeous shots.

carol l mckenna said...

I remember traveling that road ~ Absolutely wonderful photography ~ love the wintry effects ~

Happy Weekend and Valentine's Day to you ~ ^_^

AdriBarr said...

Oh my! Another magnificent travelogue! You must be having a ball exploring your new state. I sure am enjoying the armchair travels. The vistas are absolutely majestic. We live in such a wonderful country; it is so diverse, and there is beauty in every state of the union, but perhaps Colorado is the grandest of all.

Ann Y said...

I love learning about all the places in Colorado. My few trips always left me wanting, but this ride on the Million Dollar Highway reminded me of our very first trip driving a Mountain. Pikes Peak 1986 in a brand new Volkswagon Vanagon! Because we were not familiar about gas changes and altitude we reached 12,000 feet and after stalling upteen times and black clouds moving in fast, a dirt road and really no ability to turn around easily; we finally had to maneuver the turn around very carefully as the rain drops started. I will never forget the drop off, the feeling of no control, the very quick change from dirt to mud road and the downward descent of a car that might stall again. Once down the mountain our worries were not over, the rain flooded the exit and many of the roads away from Colorado Springs. It took us another 15 years before we took the Tram up the side of the Mountain to that over 14,000 foot peak. The kids have not forgotten our great trip and Pikes Peak!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Stunning vistas, it does remind my of the snow covered mountains in Switzerland.

Ann said...

I does remind me of Switzerland, we spent a couple of nights there in Zermat in a hostel years ago!! Gorgeous
Ann

Jann Olson said...

Oh, I am going to have to put this on our 'go to' list. Last Spring we went to Breckenridge and hit Steamboat on our way home. This looks like a town we would love! Our little town of Alpine is named after it's resembles to the Swiss Alps. Thanks for sharing with SYC.
hugs,
Jann

Art and Sand said...

This was such a fun tour. I have only visited Denver and Keystone for skiing.

Thanks for Sharing Your Cup!