By Valerie C.

Welcome to colorful Colorado! In early October, we passed through southwestern Colorado all too briefly on our way between Arizona and Moab, Utah. We took a day to drive the scenic route into the Rockies between Durango, Silverton, and Ouray (pronounced “your-RAY”), Colorado.

I remembered my parents taking my sister and me to Silverton from Grand Junction (where we lived) via the Million Dollar Highway back in the ’70s. Road builder and transportation magnate Otto Mears began constructing the highway in 1880 and finished it in 1924. The road operated as a mail, stage, and freight line until Mears finished building the “Rainbow Route railway,” a narrow-gauge railway that still operates through the pass today. A narrow-gauge rail way is “skinnier” than typical railroads, enabling transport on narrow ledges through mountain gorges. The road and railway were originally built to take gold and silver from the rich mines at the summit of Red Mountain Pass down to the towns, but what makes it famous still today is its view. The section of the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Red Mountain Pass cost about a million dollars to build, which gave the highway its name.

Rocky Mountain fall

Mitch takes in the view of fall in the Rockies in our first scenic stop at a 10,000-foot pass between Durango and Silverton, CO. Look at that blue sky!

Seasons in the Rockies

The seasons change from winter atop the 14,000-foot peak to fall on the 10,000-foot slopes in this scenic Rocky Mountain view. Durango, a bigger town than Silverton, acts as the base for Purgatory ski area, more recently renamed “Durango Mountain Ski Area.”

View of the road through the Rockies between Durango, CO and Silverton, CO

View of the road through the Rockies between Durango, CO and Silverton, CO

A scenic stop between Durango and Silverton finds us a little off track for our perpetual pursuit of summer. But we are open to opportunities for beauty. And what the heck, we brought jackets.

A scenic stop between Durango and Silverton finds us a little off track for our perpetual pursuit of summer. But we are open to opportunities for beauty. And what the heck, we brought jackets to deal with the cold.

Fall snow in the Rockies was apparent in early October. These peaks between Durango and Silverton, CO are between 13,000 and 14,000 feet high. Silverton is home to Kendall Mountain ski area.

Early snowfall in the Rockies occurs in early October. These peaks between Durango and Silverton, CO are between 13,000 and 14,000 feet high.

Historic Silverton, CO: the side street that parallels this main street is a dirt road equipped with hitching posts to tie up your horse outside the businesses. Dogs are welcomed in this town by water dishes on the sidewalks outside most establishments.

Historic Silverton, CO: the street that parallels the main paved street is a dirt road equipped with posts to tie up your horse outside the businesses. Dogs are welcomed in this town by water dishes on the sidewalks outside most establishments.

Silverton, CO is a charming little old-fashioned, frontier-like ski town with one paved road through the middle and many historic buildings from its gold-rush boom days.

Silverton, CO is a charming little old fashioned frontier-like ski town with many historic buildings from its gold-rush boom days.

Early fall Snow

We decided to continue the drive from Silverton to Ouray, once Val saw signs for the Million Dollar Highway, which she remembered as spectacular from when she was little. But brr…it got cold up in them there hills! Val had to put her jacket on for a picture in the early fall snow. Not surprising at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in October.

Vehicles including truckers must manuver lots of these 15 mph hairpin turns on the Million Dollar Highway!

Drivers must manuver lots of these 15 mph hairpin turns on the Million Dollar Highway. But the truckers need both lanes of the two-way highway to get around them — including the oncoming lane!

A view of a truck coming down the Million Dollar Highway near Bear Creek Falls outside Ouray, CO. We pulled over to watch him. We had been behind him, thrilled at the difficulty of what he was doing, going around hairpin curves that were hard for cars to maneuver. But he managed to find a place to pull over and let us pass because (as we now know as big-rig drivers) having someone behind you is a lot of pressure. You don't know if they're irritated that you are going 10 mph and if they are going to try and pass you, making your drive even more dangerous.

A view of a truck coming down the Million Dollar Highway near Bear Creek Falls outside Ouray, CO. We pulled over to watch him. We had been behind him, thrilled at the difficulty of what he was doing, going around hairpin curves that were hard for cars to maneuver. But he managed to find a place to pull over and let us pass because (as we now know as big-rig drivers) having someone behind you is a lot of pressure. You don’t know if they’re irritated that you are going 10 mph and if they are going to try and pass you, making your drive even more dangerous.

We drove our compact car, the Hyundai Veloster, but watching this truck maneuver the 15 mph curves was fascinating. We could relate to the poor driver and were glad we weren't driving the RV!

We drove our compact car, the Hyundai Veloster, but watching this truck maneuver the 15 mph curves was fascinating. We could relate to the poor driver and were glad we weren’t driving the RV!

Bear Creek Falls in the Rockies, on the Million Dollar Highway. Nearby is the steep and most dangerous part of the drive, the Uncompahgre Gorge highway section between Ironton Park and Ouray, with the Riverside and Mother Cline slides. The Riverside Slide, dropping 3,200 vertical feet down abrupt chutes, makes this highway Colorado's deadliest avalanche crossing. Today a snowshed protects the road from the slide's wrath, but not before six highway travelers perished in avalanches.

Bear Creek Falls in the Rockies, on the Million Dollar Highway. Nearby is the steep and most dangerous part of the drive, the Uncompahgre Gorge highway section between Ironton Park and Ouray, with the Riverside and Mother Cline slides. The Riverside Slide, dropping 3,200 vertical feet down abrupt chutes, makes this highway Colorado’s deadliest avalanche crossing. Today a snowshed protects the road from the slide’s wrath, but not before six highway travelers perished in avalanches.

This truck driver should get a medal for bravery. Even if he traverses this tricky Million Dollar Highway section regularly, he probably doesn't have much of a chance to look at the view.

This truck driver should get a medal for bravery. But even if he traverses this tricky Million Dollar Highway section regularly, he probably doesn’t have much of a chance to look at the view.

This is a scenic overlook of Bear Creek Falls on the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray, CO. We talked to the couple on the right and found out they were visiting from Littleton, MA, the town right next to Acton, where we were from. It seriously felt so bizarre and exciting to meet someone from the same place so far away. It's a small world.

This is a scenic overlook of Bear Creek Falls on the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray, CO. We talked to the couple on the right and found out they were visiting from Littleton, MA, the town right next to Acton, where we were from. It seriously felt so bizarre and exciting to meet someone from the same place so far away. It’s a small world.

The older man who was part of the vacationing couple above from Littleton, MA told us a great small-world story to beat our own. He said when he was first married (presumably several decades ago), his first wife went with him on a “bucket-list” trip to Alaska so he could visit the Arctic Circle. He said they left their home in Dorchester, MA, flew from Boston to Anchorage, and drove north for three days to Fairbanks, which was only halfway there. At that point, he said, his wife got a little sick of his obsession. So he left his wife in Fairbanks and hired a plane to take him the rest of the way. When he arrived, he got out of the plane and saw only two buildings. One was the post office and the bank. The other was the general store and gas station. He went into the grocery store and asked the clerk if there was a place he could camp out for the night. The clerk pointed him to a field across the road. “Is it safe?” asked the man. “Are there bears around here?” The clerk pointed at a gas pump and said, “See that pump theyah? Earliah this mornin’, they was a beyah leaning up against it.” The man recognized a Boston accent and found that the clerk was from the same home town — Dorchester, MA.

Life Lesson #1: No matter how far you travel, it’s a small world.

Does a buck in your front yard help or hurt the sale of your home in Ouray?

Does a buck in your front yard help or hurt the sale of your home in Ouray?

Val always says it might be a nice day, but it isn’t a vacation until you see animals!

Bighorn Sheep in CO

To drive the Million Dollar Highway is an adventure…but to see bighorn sheep crossing it makes it a vacation!

How often do you see bighorn sheep? And how often do you see them when you have your camera out and ready??? A million dollar shot on the Million Dollar Highway.

How often do you see bighorn sheep? And how often do you see them when you have your camera out and ready??? A lucky shot on the Million Dollar Highway.

After the neat road trip of the day, I called my parents to tell them I was thinking of them and to ask them what they remembered from our drive on the Million Dollar Highway when I was little. My dad said I must have been five or six years old. My sister was ten or eleven. He said they took us on the trip because they thought we would like it. My parents wanted us to be thrilled by the scary drop-offs and gorgeous scenery, but my sister and I were too busy playing with our Barbie dolls in the backseat to bother looking. My dad was disgusted.

Mitch and I both laughed loudly immediately, recognizing the experience as our own with our kids.

I took my son Richard to Hawaii when he was 11, and my friend Ken became frustrated that Richard wasn’t paying much attention to the personal tour of Oahu he was giving us. I mean, it’s Hawaii! Richard had never been there and it’s an 11-hour flight from New England, so he probably wouldn’t be coming back any day soon. But Richard was in the back seat focused on playing games on his Nintendo Gameboy. He would look up only briefly when Ken pointed out the sights. Ken was subsequently annoyed enough to pull over, open the back door, snatch the game out of Richard’s hands and lock it in the trunk (an act that I heartily agreed with).

Mitch said his son Greg and his girlfriend’s son, Nicholas, did the same thing during their trip to the island of Oahu in 2011 when they were 15 and 10. The two boys sat in the backseat completely absorbed in their iPhone games and Gameboy, respectively. Mitch told them many times to stop but finally pulled over the car, took the iPhone and Gameboy away, and locked it in the trunk.

So here’s to my mom and dad! I’m glad you’re around, guys, so I can tell you this, which is a message to parents everywhere and is Life Lesson #2: your kids may not seem to be paying any attention to that fabulous thing you’re exposing them to, but they *are* looking, and they will remember that you took them. And maybe someday they’ll even design their lives around going back for a second (more-engaged) look at the sights.

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Next post: And Now A Word From Mitch: This is Not My Beautiful House!

If you’d like to start reading about our adventures from the beginning, start with our first post at https://rvluckyorwhat.com/2014/08/20/hello-world-its-the-mitch-and-val-show-tour-2014-15/.

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