If you have ever driven to Ouray from the south you have no doubt traveled over Red Mountain pass on your journey to Switzerland of America.
At elevation of 11,018 feet it’s one of the highest passes in Colorado and is traversed by US 500 (Million Dollar Highway) but do you know the history behind this famous high mountain pass? Read on and learn a few things to remember on your next trip to Ouray.
What’s in a Name
The pass is named for the nearby Red Mountain Group on the northeast side of the pass that get their orange/red color from iron oxide rock that makes up the slopes of the mountain. Straddling the divide between Ouray and San Juan counties the pass also serves as the dividing point between the Uncompahgre and Las Animas watersheds and the Uncompahgre and San Juan National Forests.
The Red Mountain Mining district served as a historic silver boom from 1882-1893 including Yankee Girl, National Belle and Guston mines that can still be visited today via CR10 on the Ouray side of the pass. These mines produced some of the richest ore in the San Juan Mountains and prompted the development of Ironton Park for families of the miners and prospectors alike.
The Idarado Mine (Treasury Tunnel) is the most recognizable mine due to its proximity to US 550 as you come off Red Mountain Pass towards Ouray. Take a few minutes and stop at the information overlook and learn more about this famous mining district.
Famous or Infamous?
The stretch US 550 between Ouray and Silverton defines The Million Dollar Highway and shares dual recognition as one of the top ten deadliest and prettiest roads in the world; rightfully so, the beauty can distract drivers from the task at hand. Red Mountain Pass has claimed its share of lives over the years.
The ascent/descent, depending which way you are traveling, is marked with hairpin turns to deal with elevation, narrow lanes cut directly into the sides of the mountains and a lack of guard rails. Traveling over this pass takes concentration and focus.
Do you know why there are a lack of guardrails on Red Mountain Pass and the Million Dollar Highway? They impede snow removal. Put that piece of trivia on the back burner for your next visit and imagine snow removal (think avalanches) in the winter to keep the road open!
So there you have a bit of background on Red Mountain Pass and even a few things to check out on your next trip to Ouray. Just be sure to keep your eyes on the road!