The Million Dollar Highway

Red Mountain Pass in Colorado on Million Dollar HighwayThe Million Dollar Highway stretches for about 25 miles in western Colorado and follows the route of U.S. 550 between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado. 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.

Million Dollar Highway Ruby WallThis 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 “S” 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. Travel north from Silverton to Ouray allows drivers to hug the inside of curves; travel south from Ouray to Silverton perches drivers on the vertiginous outside edge of the highway.

The Million Dollar Highway crosses over three mountain passes; Coal Bank Pass, elevation at 10,640 feet, Molas Pass, elevation at 10,970 feet and Red Mountain Pass, elevation 11,018 feet

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.

U.S. 550 ends at the corner of Townsend Avenue and Main Street in Montrose, Colorado at the junction of its parent route U.S. Highway 50.