Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Riding the Million Dollar Highway

On this day, I was going to ride one of the roads that many people had said I should – the Million Dollar Highway.

I have now got quite used to meeting other bikers and talking to them and invariably, suggestions abound and ideas are exchanged about where to ride. I love this type of chat and occasionally a real gem of a suggestions comes my way. This one particular road, US Highway 552, had been suggested to me as much as any other road, so I was eagerly anticipating what it had to offer.

I had arranged to ride the first part of the road, from Durango to Silverton with my new friends, John and Diana and we took off riding north at 10 o’clock in the morning....


























They lead the first part of the way, showing me a back-road that I didn’t know of, that lead to a bridge over a river that I had flagged in my gps / sat nav as maybe worthwhile seeing. This next picture is taken from Bakers Bridge over-looking the Animas River. For those of you who have seen the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” you might be interested to know it was here that the final scene showing the two outlaws jumping off a cliff was filmed. This is the cliff....




















Of course in the actual film scene, the cliff was made to look much deeper!

John and Diana then lead to me Haviland Lake, where we saw a terrific reflection of the mountains behind....
















As we rode further north, the scenery became more spectacular.... it is a shame photographs never seem to do mountains justice. Believe me, these were magnificent way beyond what these pictures show....





































Soon we arrived at Silverton, a town of just 531 people (2000) and I am told it is so-called because during it mining peak, there was silver-by-the-ton. Today it mainly caters for the tourists (like me) that ride the Durango to Silverton steam train. We stopped to look down at the town from the highway....




















Silverton was lovely when we were there on a warm sunny day. I can’t imagine what the town must be like in the winter with its 300+ inches of snow that falls each year. We had drinks in a bar and I bought a couple of t-shirts for my sons. At this point I said my farewells to John and Diana as they needed to get back to Durango - it was good riding with you!

The main part of the Million Dollar Highway is north from Silverton to Ouray, a distance of just 23 miles. I have heard two different reasons about why it has its name. It is either because it cost a million dollars a mile to build, or because the fill they used to make up the road has traces of gold and silver contained within it. Whichever is true, it is still a great name for a road.

The road itself is a terrific ride, but you need to have nerves of steel along some parts as there are steep drop-offs and no guard rails. In places the road hugs the side of a steep slope of a mountain and in others, it has great bends which are ideal for motorcycling. I made a video and that is near the end of this post, but first here are a few photos. There are not many pictures of the parts with steep drop-offs as generally these do not have a shoulder to stop on to take pictures. Here is what I did manage to take and some of these were shot on the move....

A nice sweeping bend....




















You can see the road cut into the side of the mountain....




















Mountain views, lovely bends and yellow Aspens trees moving into autumn. What a combination!....



















































































I like this shot of the hairpin bend....




















Another tight bend....




















The changing colours of the trees make for a splendid background to the road....













































































In one spot that is obviously susceptible to avalanches, or falling rocks, a special tunnel has been constructed in order that the road can be kept open. This is taking inside that tunnel....





















One of the parts of the road you need to pay particular attention on....





















Just before arriving in Ouray, there is a place you can stop and overlook the town....




















Main Street in Ouray, with its shops, bars and restaurants. I tried all three!....




















Here is the video of riding the Million Dollar Highway.... I hope you enjoy the ride....



Another one of the great roads Colorado has to offer! It felt good to ride this road, so I turned around and rode it again – twice on the first day to make the video and twice again the next day to go back to take the photos!

When I checked in at the motel for the night I decided to wash the bike and I met a guy called Nick, a Patent Lawyer, from the next town, called Gerrards Cross, next to where I used to live on the west side of London. It can be a small world..... Nick wondered why I was cleaning my bike when it already looked so clean to him. I explained it was about as dirty as it has ever been and the Leading Ladies didn’t like it.....

15 comments:

Charlie6 said...

You caught the Fall's turning of the leaves colors just right it seems Gary! Beautiful photography and video, those roads are some of my favorite Colorado roads to ride.

dom

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Canajun said...

Wow, great ride. Although those drop-offs seem a bit scary!

SonjaM said...

An amazing set of pictures, you also nicely captured the fall foliage. Simply beautiful. Thanks for riding it twice to deliver all those impressions to us. And again you seem to luck out with the weather. Good for you!

Rosemary Crawford said...

I get a little queasy seeing those steep drops and no guard rails. Beautiful scenery. Those leaves turning say you had better be heading south soon! At the elevations you have been riding, it is nice you have continued to have good weather for your epic ride.

biker baby said...

It's pretty cool to see the gradual change in seasons in your pix. We are right behind you. By then it should be in full Fall colors. We will be at The Arches Nat'l Park probably Oct 2...we'll watch for you on the road.

Jimmy B. said...

A little movie trivia: John Wayne's movie "True Grit" was mostly shot in Ridgeway and the surrounding area (Yankee Boy Basin and the Imogene Pass). Many of the buildings shown in the film are still there to this day.

Here's a little "then and now" clip.
Ridgeway, CO Then and Now

FLHX_Dave said...

You chose a really great time to tour this. This is my favorite time of year. Gary, I hope you are planning on putting this all together in a coffee table book. Not many people are fortunate enough to be able to do this.

Thanks again...just kick ass

motoroz said...

The Aspen trees are beautiful. That is a great road. I have ridden it in the summer but never the fall. It is one of the greatest roads in Colorado - actually all of the USA.

Eve said...

Beautiful colors Gary! Wow I think my nerves would be SHOT riding that road! Steep drop offs, loose boulders and cyclists on the edge!!!!!!! What a great ride! Thanks so much for taking us!

FLHX_Dave said...

Hah! I had to come back and look at these picts again. They are killing me!

Gary France said...

Jimmy – I just watched the clip you linked to and it was incredible. What a fantastic piece of work to go and find all of those locations and try to film them in the same way as in the original film. I remember seeing True Grit all those years ago and you comment has inspired me to find it and watch it again. Thanks!

Dave – I am thinking about a book.... I have never written a book before, so it holds lots of challenges for me! I have to keep pinching myself just to make sure I am really doing this ride and seeing all these great places I have only ever read about!

Oz – It ranks pretty high on my list of the greatest roads....

Eve – I loved riding that road so much, I just had to do it a few times....!

Dave – OK, if I do write the book, you will be the first I send a copy to!

Keith said...

Gary,Finding your blog was great. We just got back for Colorado a couple of weeks ago. I agree, The Million Dollar Hwy was one of our highlights. It rained as we came from Durango to Siverton, so we did it again the next day too. Our trip went from North Carolina to the Grand Canyon, thru Utah and Colorado and then back Home. 5159 miles on a Harley. Not as much as yours but an awesome trip for some country boys from NC. Pikes Peak was a blast too.

Gary France said...

Keith - I am glad that you found my blog. Without a doubt, riding the Million Dollar Highway in the rain is a scary thing to do - it is much better in good weather. Doing Utah, Colorado and the Grand Canyon are probably some of the best places you could have seen. This long distance riding is a lot of fun!

irishgalinabq said...

It hit a deer on this road-traumatized for life now. Glad you made it to the other end safely! Awesome pictures and blog as usual.

Gary France said...

irishgalinabq - Sorry you hit the deer. I am glad that you like the blog!