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Old 08-11-2020, 11:40 AM   #1
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Silverton to Ouray, Colorado: the 550 Highway

The Ouray to Silverton, Colorado experience on the Highway 550 or the Sliverton to Ouray experience... an equally entertaining 'experience' for those not familiar with narrow highways with 1,000 foot drop offs... most WITH guard rails.

Traffic was busy. Even 18 wheelers. Just ignore them in your mirrors, as once you stop to let people pass... others will be soon piling on. Drive the speed you are comfortable.

You can see the entire towns of Ouray and Silverton from the highway, way above the towns. The ENTIRE town... not just parts. Oooooh Weeee. If you are a momma's boy and cry when scared.... this will take care of any fears you use to have and replace them with NO FEAR of Bear or Fear of Heights.

Underpowered tow vehicle? Engine may heat up.

Under... braked tow vehicle? Brakes may heat up.

You will find your tow vehicle's limitations... even if you have a 1/2, 3/4 or 1 ton tow vehicle. NO one is immune to some... elevated 'enthusiasm'. Just keep within YOUR comfort zone. Ignore everyone else. You will do fine... maybe.

This is the ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE. Take your time. Ignore those passing. Use a pullout when available and catch your breath in the Thin Air and fabulous views!

There was a section of the 550 near Ouray alongside the outside of the cliff route that had fallen off into the canyon. It was not there... when we went through ten days earlier... Traffic was directed to the single lane, while the road crews were working on a FIX.

But... there are many Off the Grid Boondocking sites along this highway. You have to have an eye for spotting the exiting the paved 550 to the pull outs.

I took photographs of our awkward but wonderful pullout alongside the 550. An equally exciting putting our experience to fit our 27 feet attached to our F350 pickup. Several Airstreams came by that day. The RV Parks were FULL. There could be a hundred pull offs into the trees. Some would be easier than others... but experience helps.

Bring loppers to cut brush or low tree limbs. This site we camped is ready and wide open. It was at 10,500 feet. Engineer Mountain in the distance. Warm days and 39F that morning... at Sunrise. Ahhhhhhh. Hot Sun... Cool Air. Lots of Solar.

THIS is the MOST EXCITING drive in the Rocky Mountains! It is worth doing it at least once. We have done this route four times this year, as the 550 takes us to places we want to go... the Short Cut.

Of all of the places we have traveled in the Rocky Mountains. This IS the BEST of the BEST. We have been EVERY WHERE plus the rest. Towing a trailer.

We have driven up Mount Antero, a 14,000+ mountain. We have done Pike's Peak. Rocky Mountain National Park. Canyon of the Gunnison by truck.

If the 'going up' was not exciting... enough. The going DOWN will be. I like the Silver to Ouray... best. Some great campsites just south of Ouray on the way down.. on your south side in the forest. Enough for fifty trailers... if empty. Keep your eyes open for trailers through the trees... and be prepared to turn as the entrance is not marked.

Nothing.... nothing beats the 550. Nothing.

We 'Have Been Everywhere, Man'... and this is the the BIG ONE.
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Old 08-11-2020, 12:29 PM   #2
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Yes, indeed, it is an exhilarating drive. Good advice, take your time, it is not a drive you want to (or should) rush through. Enjoy the thrill!
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Old 08-11-2020, 12:34 PM   #3
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Durango, Silverton, Ouray or Ouray, Silverton, Durango

I should have said... Durango to Ouray, OR Ouray to Durango on the 550.

There was so much Off the Grid Boondocking sites that they would be in the hundred to two hundred 'units'. Tent campers had many more options. We had a tent camper drive their SUV up a two track near us into the trees and set up their tent... and we did not even SEE or HEAR them!

If you take it easy... someone could take five days for the trip. Even though the lower elevations are hot/warm... the evenings are like Air Conditioning at home. As the sun sets... the temperatures drop fast. You will be closing up your Airstream as the temperatures drop.

So just keep in mind that the 550 is OUR short cut when in this part of Colorado. It never disappoints... but the driver will see only a fraction while the passengers on the Cliff drop off side... will be white as ghosts. They will not notice the sweat on the driver's forehead... or not much.

Have the PASSENGER take photos on the South to North drive. Silverton and Ouray from the top is remarkable and you have clear views... moving. The pullouts are not very long, nor wide on all of those we noticed.

If you are from States with little or no relief... AFTER this drive... Yellowstone Park Traffic... is for amateurs! YOU, like MikeandCarol can expect anywhere else in the USA as... easy.
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Old 08-11-2020, 12:54 PM   #4
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Thanks for taking time to describe this route. Sounds very interesting and enjoyable. We look forward to seeing you and Nancy down the road at some point.
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Old 08-11-2020, 01:01 PM   #5
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Being a 'flatlander' the Million Dollar Highway ALWAYS takes my breath away. I've done it many times on a motorcycle, sometimes in the dark, and a few times in a car. I once asked a local, "Why isn't there guardrails?" and he answered, "Have you ever hit a guardrail?" NO. "Then you didn't need it."
Ouray and Silverton are two of my favorite places. I'd love to go back soon.
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Old 08-11-2020, 03:25 PM   #6
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Cedar City, Utah to Cedar Breaks... discounted $200K Highway

Mollysdad mentions the Million Dollar Highway.

Google this... See the Videos. One it titled: The Most Dangerous Road in America... and it is not Rush Hour Traffic in Los Angeles.

The Sturgis Bikers were also traveling through when we were camped. Perfect size for this... experience.

********

Cedar City and Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah:

Another 'experience' is Utah's Highway 14 going East from Cedar City at 5,850 feet elevation to Cedar Breaks National Monument at 10,000+ elevation. I would consider it the $100,000 Highway going UP or $200,000 going Down.

Your gas mileage going UP will be around 8mpg . Going DOWN... Yaaaa Hooo... 11 to 13mpg... or better .

At the Cedar Breaks National Monument the parking is tough for a small SUV. A trailer in tow... impossible. I say 100% impossible. Find the campsite I noted on the Forum today and find a wonderful open near the trees or a site in the trees to detach the trailer and then leave just at sunrise or sunset. No traffic. Lots of parking at the National Monument as most drive up from town and leave early. Then the hiking trails are all yours and not following someone with flip flops.

The 'easy way' is through Duck Creek, an interesting tourist area where ATV's are the favored town vehicles. Then go down to Cedar City after camping. Even camping by the lake on the way if you like company. We prefer 'wilder areas'.

Utah is great OTG Boondocking in many of the 10,000 foot mountain with mesas.

For those who follow this Thread. Camp near Cedar Breaks: Forest Road 2106 off of Highway 148 and Highway 14. It is close to Cedar Breaks, but need a couple of turns to find the well graveled Forest Road 2106 off Highway 148 that goes to Duck Creek to the East. It is at 9,250 elevation... Nancy wrote down. We have stayed there several times and enjoyed the area every time.
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Old 08-11-2020, 03:48 PM   #7
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We have done it many times and agree with your assessment. Did meet an idiot driver trying pass a long line of cars coming up from the Durango direction. No where to go for us, white line on the right was the end of the shoulder and some of it was starting to fall down the mountain. Just when I thought we were going to have a head-on, we saw bluish smoke and he crowed into the line of cars. Great drive but I always ignore the view while driving up it and let my wife enjoy the scenery. Eyes on the center lines and the shoulder line.

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Old 08-11-2020, 04:33 PM   #8
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Not to forget Molas Lake at 10k. One of the finest campgrounds without any hookups. Pulling a trailer up and down 550 is exhilarating, a classic Airstream Motorhome is a whole "other" experience. I never forget the sign, just when I thought I made it "Coal Bank Pass 4miles- no pullovers"
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Old 08-11-2020, 05:23 PM   #9
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Durango - Silverton Guidebook- 1964

This is a geologist's view of the trip some of you may consider this or next year. It took these guys decades to work it all out.

Some of the material is interesting. It was part of the Four Corners Geological Society Fourteenth Annual Regional Convention of 1964.

It IS illustrated. They use mileage from the beginning to the end of each tour so you know exactly where you are at the time. This is good for some of us. Some of you get lost no matter what you use as a map or directions from some guy standing in front of the local Bar.

Nice history of Silverton and the Narrow Gauge Railroad and a road log of Durango to Silverton so you can drive up to something like a ROCK... and they tell you why and what it is. Imagine that... all in one moderate sized printed 84 page booklet.

There are some black and white topographic map pages that you can color in the different rock formations. You do not need to be artistic but color within the lines. OK? Geez... Science is complicated.

If you pay any more than $20 for the book including shipping... be patient. There is NO line to purchase this kind of material. One chapter in Petroleum which has nothing to do with Service Stations, but petroleum pumped from under your trailer... kind of stuff.

I forgot I took this along on the trip. Being old, means too much stuff creates forgetfulness. When I need something... I ask Nancy where it might be.
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Old 08-11-2020, 06:38 PM   #10
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We just white-knuckled the Million Dollar Highway last weekend.

Well....that's a bit of an exaggeration. The ride wasn't very stressful; but the scenery was amazing.

Earlier in the day I rented a Jeep and did the Alpine Loop and Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Pass. As a flatlander with little off-roading experience, this was fun and challenging and nerve-racking. So why do we do these things to ourselves? Quite simply, the scenery. You can't see anything like these places unless you get off road and trust the Jeep will know how to keep the rubber side down--even when 1 or 2 wheels are in the air and it's 1000 feet straight down the side. 8 hours (and a change of underwear) later, we were safely back towing the Airstream.

After all the Jeeping, Highway 550 (with that immaculately-maintained tarmac paving!) was a breeze. If you're anywhere near Durango, this is a must-do.
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Old 08-11-2020, 08:46 PM   #11
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We drove Durango-Ouray last week with our Flying Cloud 25FB, after doing it in the reverse direction three years ago with 50% less trailer weight (a '65 GT) ... I have to say, I much preferred the lighter trailer! It's some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, though, so it's worth the white knuckles.

Heading home, we took the long way back to Texas via Montrose and Gunnison and over to I-25. If we do 550 again (and we will), I'm going to need a bigger truck!

Along the way, we passed more than a dozen Airstreams and probably twice that many SOBs, so folks are definitely not staying at home this summer due to COVID. Campgrounds were full, and many of the boondocking spots along the road seemed to be, as well.
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Old 08-11-2020, 09:13 PM   #12
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Pedal the Peaks

Did that trip on a bicycle on a organized and supported ride called "Pedal the Peaks", our first day was Durango to Ouray. The ride took a week, covered 833 miles, with six days of riding and a rest day spent in Lake City. Needless to say you had to be in very good shape to do it. I remember the people in motorhomes struggling climbing and decending, as I passed several of them. Stops were in Ouray, Gunnison, Lake City, South Fork, Chalma NM, winding up back in Durango.
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Old 08-12-2020, 09:41 AM   #13
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All I have to say is " If you or your passengers are the least bit squeamish, don't try it at night during a blizzard." While I found the drive challenging my spouse was a nervous wreck. After we completed our trip, I must admit a sense of relief. I'd suggest finding a campground, waiting for either daylight or the storm to blow through and get a good nights sleep before making the trip. If, for no other reason, than a tranquil conclusion of the trip.
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Old 08-12-2020, 10:15 AM   #14
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Ray, thanks as always for your post. They’re always entertaining and though provoking.

We did the drive both ways several years ago in a VW Golf AllTrack so much less drama (for me). I think there’s fingernail marks on the dash from the DW.

We love the Durango area and have to go back now that we have an Airstream. Thanks for the tips on places to camp! *We’ll be packing our Trunk Monkey just in case those pesky tailgaters get too close.
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Old 08-12-2020, 10:19 AM   #15
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May I suggest a slightly different route for those who don't feel they want to "white-knuckle" it over the Million Dollar Highway? If headed south, turn off at Ridgeway onto CO Highway 62 towards Telluride. This takes you up the relatively gentle climb up Dallas Divide - an absolutely stunning drive in autumn because of masses of aspen trees! Then turn left onto Hwy 145 towards Telluride, but don't turn off to go into Telluride, just continue on 145 up and over Lizard Head Pass.This is a much more moderate climb and through equally breathtaking scenery as Hwy 550, with the San Juan Mountains as a backdrop. The road takes you down into the beautiful Dolores River valley straight into Cortez, CO which is 7 miles from Mesa Verde. From Cortez, its about an hour to Durango.
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Old 08-12-2020, 11:02 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by daytripper View Post
May I suggest a slightly different route for those who don't feel they want to "white-knuckle" it over the Million Dollar Highway? If headed south, turn off at Ridgeway onto CO Highway 62 towards Telluride. This takes you up the relatively gentle climb up Dallas Divide - an absolutely stunning drive in autumn because of masses of aspen trees! Then turn left onto Hwy 145 towards Telluride, but don't turn off to go into Telluride, just continue on 145 up and over Lizard Head Pass.This is a much more moderate climb and through equally breathtaking scenery as Hwy 550, with the San Juan Mountains as a backdrop. The road takes you down into the beautiful Dolores River valley straight into Cortez, CO which is 7 miles from Mesa Verde. From Cortez, its about an hour to Durango.
Highly recommend Cayton NF Campground on Lizard Head Pass. Eighteen sites offer electric hookups. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and campfire ring. Vault toilets, drinking water and a dump station are provided.

The campground is situated near the banks of the Dolores River, in a grassy meadow surrounded by fir and aspen trees. At an elevation of 9,400 feet, campers should expect cool evenings.
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Old 08-12-2020, 11:12 AM   #17
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Take a Deep Breath... life is too short

Oh well... I thought these would put some of those at ease making the 550 Trip on the list of 'things to do' this or next year.
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Old 08-12-2020, 11:15 AM   #18
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I just saw yesterday that I-70 was closed both ways in the Glenwood Canyon area. Where you're on a long bridge.
I always dreaded that area (although it's beautiful) because for 13 miles there's no pull offs if you have a tire problem.
The Grizzly creek fire was pouring smoke across the road.
If you're headed to Grand Junction and beyond, check for news.
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Old 08-12-2020, 02:15 PM   #19
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Just for your information, the reason they don’t have guard rails is because it makes it easier to remove the snow. And they get lots of snow up there.
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Old 08-12-2020, 05:56 PM   #20
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Ouray to Durango.

Drove it about three weeks ago. Whole heartedly agree. Take your time. And there is wonderful Boondocking..

Currently in Bluff. Rock art here is amazing.
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