Here’s the short of it. From my driveway and back again, it was 730 miles. We, as bikers and riders drove/rode over or to 5 mountain passes: Cottonwood Pass – 12,126 ft., Monarch Pass – 11,312 ft., Red Mountain Pass – 11,015 ft., Molas Pass – 10,910 ft., and Coal Bank Pass – 10,640 ft.
On the morning of July 19, 2014, 325 motorcycles, most of which were Harley Davidson, rode out of Pikes Peak Harley Davidson (PPHD) in multiple groups with 470 riders. The ride, originating at PPHD, was to traverse five passes/summits on the way to Durango, CO. The ride was also a poker run, with three cards at the start and two more at the finish where an after party was held. First Stop, Cottonwood Pass.
What a beautiful day to ride. Leaving out of PPHD, our group (the one my bride and I were in) rode a familiar path up Hwy 24 to Buena Vista. We turned off the main rode to make the ride to Cottonwood Pass. As with most of our rides through this part of the country, the road a winding, but not too challenging. The final half mile was probably a little challenging, but mainly for the ride down. Once at the top, we were able to bask in the air at 12,126 feet. The view South and North were awesome to say the least, but it was time to head back to the main rode because we had a lot more road to cover.
From Buena Vista, we headed South to Hwy 50, where we headed west. Hwy 50 took us through Gunnison and on to Montrose, but not before we traversed Monarch Pass, a great place for a pit stop and a picture.
Arriving in Montrose, we made a turn onto Hwy 550, the Million Dollar Highway, which is named for the section from Silverton to Ouray. The road itself stretches from Montrose to Bernalillo, New Mexico. A little gee whiz for you regarding the Million Dollar Highway.
Most of U.S. 550 in Colorado is two-lane mountainous highway. It is one of only two north to south U.S. Highways in Colorado which runs West of the Continental Divide. Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles South of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name. This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains. During this ascent, the remains of the Idarado Mine are visible.
The original portion of the Million Dollar Highway was a toll road built by Otto Mears in 1883 to connect Ouray and Ironton.
Another toll road was built over Red Mountain Pass from Ironton to Silverton. In the late 1880s, Otto Mears turned to building railroads and built the Silverton Railroad north from Silverton over Red Mountain Pass to reach the lucrative mining districts around Red Mountain, terminating at Albany just eight miles South of Ouray. The remaining eight miles were considered too difficult and steep for a railroad. At one point a cog railroad was proposed, but it never made it beyond the planning stage. The origin of the name Million Dollar Highway is disputed. There are several legends, though, including that it cost a million dollars a mile to build in the 1920s, and that its fill dirt contains a million dollars in gold ore.
The Million Dollar Highway to Ouray was quite picturesque, but it was the ride from Ouray to Silverton that has made it my favorite ride yet, making the namesake of the Million Dollar Highway an incredible journey I will undoubtedly have to retake.
As for Ouray, it was originally established by miners chasing silver and gold in the surrounding mountains, the town at one time boasted more horses and mules than people. Prospectors arrived in the area in 1875. At the height of the mining, Ouray had more than 30 active mines. The entire Main Street is registered as a National Historic District with most of the buildings dating back to the late nineteenth century.
Silverton is a former silver mining camp, most or all of which is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District. Silverton was the setting for some of Shaun White’s 2010 Olympic training. Taking advantage of the secluded locale, terrain and snow fall, Red Bull built a private halfpipe for the snowboarder. Silverton also boasts having the highest Harley Davidson store in the world. Yeah, we got the T-shirt to prove it.
Leaving Silverton, we continued South traversing and elapsing Red Mountain Pass, Molas Pass, and Coal Bank Pass along Hwy 550. The ride and view was none less stunning than the rest of the ride, but still, Ouray to Silverton has left an image in my mind that will last a lifetime.
The feeling the morning after was that of feeling sore and tired, but it was worth every bit of it. After breakfast, my bride and I hit the road for home, taking Hwy 160. The previous night, Hwy 24 had been washed out near one of the areas hit by the fire two years ago, which is unaffectionately called the burn scar. Hwy 160 from Durango to Alamosa was uncharted territory for us, so more new scenery to see.
The ride through the hills and mountains was no less impressive than the previous day’s ride as we made our way to Alamosa, and then home. Along the way, we passed Wolf Creek Pass at 10,857 Ft. and Wolf Creek Ski Resort. Another beautiful day of riding, albeit tender and sore.
Until next time, cheers.
PS. If there are any grammatical errors or punctuation errors, I do not care. I am tired. Good night.