Sunday, October 15, 2023

A Drive on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

After spending a day in Durango, Colorado, to take a ride on the scenic Durango to Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad--see the blog post about that on--this link--my husband and I decided to take a scenic drive on US Route 550, which in Colorado has the nickname "The Million Dollar Highway," and it is also a portion of the San Juan Skyway, on a loop that takes one through old mining towns, spectacular scenery, and exhilarating twists & turns. This loop of state-maintained highway goes through the San Juan Mountains.

Otto Mears built a portion of the highway connecting Ouray to Silverton in the late 1880s as a toll road, and it is now one of the most spectacular drives in the USA. There are a few different stories surrounding the road’s colorful name. One legend states that the road was built using a million dollars worth of gold and silver tailings. At the same time, another claims the nickname originates from an exhausted traveler who proclaimed: “I would not travel that road again for a million dollars!"

We were taking our drive during the last week in September, and we were worried that the aspen trees would not have changed into their glorious autumn yellows and golds as yet, but for the most part, the autumn colors along the ride were beautiful!

We even saw some bright orange color along the way which is the last color that many of the aspen leaves change to before falling.

The drive soon took us over two high mountain passes, Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass, that had scenic panoramic views!

The autumn colors became more plentiful and brighter the higher elevations that we traveled.

Looking closely towards the bottom of this photo you can see US Route 550 cutting across a ridge in one of the mountains.

Many of the San Juan Mountain tops can be viewed here.

The lush thick San Juan Forest went on for many miles.

A view of the historic gold mining town of Silverton in the distance--you can see the road swinging around a mountain that is going towards the town on the left side of this photo.

I liked this photo as it shows how I took many of the 500-plus photos I took during our drive. Thank goodness for fast camera shutters!

Colorful mountain views along the way.

Please click on the photo to enlarge it to read the signs.

We passed by Silverton, as we had visited it when we took the Durango to Silverton Railroad the day before. It is an active town and open year round.

More beautiful autumn color on a cloudless bright blue sky day.

A bit of old mining presence still stands among the gorgeous scenery.

A view looking back at the road as we rise up in higher elevation again.

The Million Dollar Highway earns its reputation as being full of twists and turns with few to no side rails and full of scary cliffside drop-offs. Thank goodness my husband has nerves of steel!

But despite being a bit scary at times the drive is well worth taking to see the views!

We "oohed and ahhed" at the aspen colors along the entire drive! 

So much autumn color surrounded us!

As we approached Ouray the road got especially curvy and mountainous. The Million Dollar Highway climbs up and over Red Mountain Pass, with a summit of 11,075 feet (3.358m), before clinging to the stunning, steep canyon walls of Uncompahgre Gorge as it makes its descent into Ouray.

In the short video above, you can catch a glimpse of a stretch of road that we were fortunate to be driving on the mountainside, rather than in the opposite direction where the road's edge is perilously close to a deep gorge.

Ouray, known as the "Switzerland of America," offers up picturesque mountain views. We visited Ouray in 2016, in late November, and drove a portion of The Million Dollar Highway then--click here-- to see that post and what the road looked like with winter snow and ice on it.

Ouray is a charming high alpine community sitting at 7,800 feet (2377 meters) in elevation. Set in a geographic bowl formed by rugged and steep mountainsides that lead up to jagged 12,000 to 13,000-foot-high (3962 meters) peaks with several creeks cascading down through valleys and canyons into the city. It is also known for its hot springs and ice climbing at the Ice Park!

"Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn." 
~ Elizabeth Lawrence 

I am going to take this advice and I will be taking a short blog break. Enjoy autumn if you are in this hemisphere or spring if you are in the southern hemisphere. 

Please pray for world peace during these sad and trying times. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Durango and Silverton Railroad a Travel Adventure in Colorado!


Do you love taking a historic and scenic train ride?  Colorado has many, and my husband and I have made a point of taking a ride on them all. I have twelve train rides featured on my blog under the label Colorado Railroads, beginning with this post and continuing back to the first one we took ten years ago.  Each train ride offers wonderful views and experiences.  We typically enjoy these train rides during the fall season when the stunning colors of the Colorado aspen trees enhance the beauty of each journey. and the Durango Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad was no exception!  This time of the year is also around our anniversary and we celebrated number 49 this year!

We began our journey by driving from our area of the Colorado Front Range to Durango, Colorado which is located in South West Colorado in the San Juan Mountian region.  There is so much to see and do in Durango but our time was limited on this trip so we were there primarily to take the round-trip train ride that we scheduled ahead of time. The train fills up quickly this time of year so it is best to make advance reservations. We chose the 9-hour roundtrip journey (includes a 2-hour Silverton layover), but there are other shorter options if desired, and special train rides such as the upcoming Holiday Polar Express train ride that begins in November and ends at the end of December.

My husband and I reserved our seats on the open-air Gondola Car as we enjoyed seeing the sights from all sides of the train and having the flexibility to move around the car.   The Gondola Car had an outward-facing bench on both sides as assigned seats but there was a lot of flexibility to take photos and I took hundreds!  I made these photo collages to make sharing them much easier. to see more detail each collage can be clicked on and it will enlarge. As the Durango Silverton Train left Durango we passed, businesses, homes, farms, and ranches as well as the Durango Hot Springs area.

As the train rose higher and higher up into the San Juan Mountains we saw beautiful vistas and autumn color.  The train follows the Animas River route and crosses over and around the river five times during its journey.  You can watch a video short I took of the train climbing up into the mountains on this YouTube link or on my Mille Fiori Facebook page at this link.

The scenery was breathtaking!

The colorful fall foliage, the vast San Juan Mountain vistas, and the icy blue/green Animas River views were stunning!

At one point the train stopped at a mountain resort and some backpackers disembarked to hike. we also saw a man zip by on a zip line-- see the last photo in the lower right in the collage aboveIf you'd like to see a short video reel of more of the train ride on my Mille Fiori Facebook link Click Here--make sure to turn on the sound on the video to hear the sound of the steam train and the train whistle at the end of the video--it is very iconic and a bit romantic to me.

The terminus of the train ride is the historic gold mining town of Silverton. which is nestled in the San Juan Mountains at an elevation of 9,3018 feet (2,840.1264 meters)

During our round-trip train ride, we had a two-hour layover in Silverton where we enjoyed a nice lunch and took a walk around town to visit the shops.

Silverton Mountain is a thrilling year-round destination for skiing enthusiasts. The mountain boasts of over 400 inches (1016 centimeters) of hefty snowfall during winter, leaving the trails ungroomed. The current advertising campaign aptly describes the experience as "all thrills and no frills." However, the recent acquisition of the Silverton Mountain area by Aspen Travel Adventure Company may lead to changes beyond the current offerings.

Our train ride back to Durango was equally scenic.

We ended the day with a delicious dinner in the Diamond Belle Saloon at the historic Strater Hotel in Durango, where the diners were serenaded by a wonderful Ragtime Paino Player during dinner.  It was a wonderful way to begin our 49th anniversary! 

The next day we took a drive on the famous "Million Dollar Highway," US 550. from Durango to Ouray, Colorado. Photos will be in my next post, where you will see how it may have gotten its nickname.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Autumn Quotes

Happy October!

A beautiful autumn has arrived in the higher elevations of Colorado!

"Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!"

~ Humbert Wolfe

My husband and I love to take scenic drives this time of the year.  We packed in many miles and saw many sights last week on our travels. One highlight was taking a ride on the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado. This is a historic train that travels up into the San Juan Mountains to the old mining town of Silverton. More about this train ride in my next blog post.

Here are a few of my favorite Autumn quotes to go along with some of the beautiful scenery that we saw...

"October is the treasure of the year."

~ Paul Laurence Dunbar

"The heart of Autumn must have broken here, and poured its treasure upon the leaves." 

~ Charlotte Bates

"October is the opal month of the year. It is the month of glory, of ripeness. 
It is the picture month"

~ Henry Ward Beecher

"As long as Autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas, and color enough to paint the beautiful things I see."

~ Vincent van Gogh

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face."

~ John Donne

"October is a hallelujah! reverberating in my body year-round." 

~ John Nichols

"The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
At the summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
speaks to me,
The faintness of the stars,
the trail of fire,
and the life that never goes away
they speak to me. 
And my heart soars!"

~Chef Dan George

"Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves change."

~ Elizabeth Lawrence