The Million Dollar Highway is a 24 mile stretch of road that connects Ouray and Silverton, Colorado and ranked one of the Top Ten Deadliest and Scenic roads in the world. Quite a distinction, eh? How did this stretch of road earn this distinction? A combination of steep cliffs, narrow roads, hairpin turns to gain elevation, a profound lack of guard rails and in many sections-a lack of shoulder to the road. But don’t let that scare you, just take it slow and keep your eyes on the road! Although a relatively short drive, it’s jammed pack with things to do and we’ll cover the top five in this blog post.
A little history first!
The original part of the Million Dollar Highway was a toll road was built by Otto Mears in 1883 to connect Ouray and Ironton with another toll road built over Red Mountain Pass connecting Ironton to Silverton during the silver boom. In the 1920’s the road was rebuilt at considerable cost and became U.S. Highway 550 under the new federal highway system. It was said the road took 1 Million Dollars per mile to build, hence it’s nickname, becoming part of the San Juan Scenic Byway.
Traveling this road today is almost like a right of passage for travelers to the San Juan Mountains and can feel like you’re time-traveling following roads originally built for stage coaches and horses.
Gold Mine Tour in Silverton
The Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour is a one-hour guided mine tour takes you 1/3 mile into the heart of 13,000 foot Galena Mountain where you can follow the vein and see real mining equipment in action! Go underground and experience the secret world of the gold miner!
Located just minutes from the historic town of Silverton, the Mine Tour is easily accessible by car and RV. Outside, at the Gold Mine Tour, the spectacular scenery is awesome and at the end of the rainbow might be your Pot O' Gold - in the Old Hundred sluice box!
Pan for real silver, copper, and even gold - and keep what you find! Best of all, panning is FREE with your ticket purchase!So stop on by and explore the underground at the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour. No reservations are needed.
Ghost Towns of Animas Forks
The town's first log cabin was built in 1873 and by 1876 the community had become a bustling mining community. At that time the town contained 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon, and a post office. By 1883 450 people lived in Animas Forks and in 1882 a newspaper, the Animas Forks Pioneer, began publication and lasted until October 1886. Every fall the residents of Animas Forks migrated en masse to the warmer town of Silverton. In 1884 a 23-day blizzard inundated the town with 25 feet of snow, the residents had to dig tunnels to get from building to building. Mining, speculation and processing mills helped Animas Forks grow.
When mining profits began to decline investment in Animas Forks was no longer justified. Although mining made a brief 1904 rebound with the construction of the Gold Prince Mill the town's mining days were nearing an end. A rail line ran through the area and stimulated interest in mining in the community again but the railroad never reached its expectations. The Gold Prince Mill closed in 1910 and in 1917 most of the mill's major parts were removed for a new facility in Eureka. The mill's dismantling signaled the beginning of the end for Animas Forks. The town was a ghost town by the 1920s.
Ouray Hot Springs
The Ute Indians who settled the Uncompahgre Valley considered the mineral springs sacred and healing, and other tribes traveled for days to visit the springs. In the 1870’s, prospectors and miners moved into the San Juan Mountains and founded the City of Ouray in 1876. In 1881, after a series of failed treaties, the federal government removed the Ute tribe to a reservation in eastern Utah. With that move, the Utes lost their native lands, including the ceremonial hot springs that they called “Miracle Waters.”
Red Mountain Mining District
For a little more than a decade at the end of the nineteenth century, the Red Mountain Mining District in Southwestern Colorado was one of the richest and most productive in the world. The story of Red Mountain is perhaps an amalgam of many of the western boom-and-bust mining cycles, and it took place in one of the highest and most beautiful places on the North American continent.
It was evident to even the earliest casual observer that there must be precious minerals in the three gaudy-colored Red Mountains. The colors came from iron pyrite - fool's gold - but it was an obvious clue that other richer minerals could be close by. Only low grade discoveries were made in the first few years of mining activity. But in 1882 John Robinson discovered the fabulously rich Yankee Girl Mine and the rush was on to Colorado's newest mining district. What had fooled the prospectors was that the ore was to be found in vertical chimneys rather than in lode deposits typical of the area. The Red Mountains themselves consisted almost entirely of very low grade ore except where the rich ore chimneys of some thirty to one hundred feet in width plunged into the earth. There silver could be found that contained as much as 1,000 ounces of silver per ton of ore - an unheard-of richness.
Hike Perimeter Loop
If you like hiking but aren’t sure if some of the bigger hikes are too much, give this low lying fruit a go once you land in Ouray. Starting at 7,700 feet and maxing out at 8,500 feet this is great introductory trail for the casual tourist. The Perimeter Loop circles Ouray connecting other trails together to form a beginner friendly, very scenic trail that you can bail on at several different locations should you find yourself in inclement weather or simply over your head fitness wise. With majestic views of the amphitheater, cascade falls, the ice park and more this trail is a must if you want to stretch your legs after a long car ride. Stop in Ouray Mountain Sports for a map and the latest conditions.
Sources: Additional Sources for this article- Old Hundred Mine, Wikipedia