Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Ride Of The West

France may have its vineyards, and Rome its ancient ruins, but America is the undisputed wonderland of roads. Here in the Land of the Free, the open road has long been a symbol of independence, and all the more so on a motorcycle.

But where to begin?

In the continental United States alone there are hundreds of thousands of miles of blacktop and cement, an oblivion of open road panning to all compass points. Lets start with Million Dollar Highway. It is a breathtaking high-mountain road and a scenic, twisty, exciting motorcycle ride that links the historic Colorado mining towns of Durango, Silverton, Ouray and Ridgeway.

How the Million Dollar Highway got its name you wonder???

One story says the Million Dollar Highway got its name from the high cost of cutting the road through the treacherous Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton.

Another says the name comes from the gold and silver deposits still buried beneath the highway.

I love the names of western towns. Living in the West makes it fun to mention places like Laramie, Abilene, Dodge City or Cheyenne when recounting motorcycle trips. For example: “We stopped in Laramie on our way to the Medicine Bow Mountains.”

You don't hear too much of that on Long Island, New York.

So, just for its name alone, I was pumped to be traveling through the West toward Durango, Colorado.

But, the real reason for my excitement was that in Durango I'd connect with one of this country’s premier scenic routes -- the Million Dollar Highway.

Durango’s colorful history as a rough-and-tumble Colorado mining and railroad town includes floods, fires, avalanches and a deadly flu epidemic.

The Denver & Rio Grande Railway built the town in 1880 to service mining camps including Silverton, Telluride and Ouray some 60 to 70 miles north.

Freight trains along the line hauled gold- and silver-laden ore mined from the surrounding San Juan Mountains -- the youngest and most rugged mountains in the Rockies.

Today, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad remains one of the areas greatest attractions.
But what attracted me to Durango was Route 550 -- best known as the Million Dollar Highway.

Similar to the railroad tracks that also head north out of town, Route 550 shadows the Animas River through breathtaking high mountain terrain while linking Durango to Silverton, Ouray and Ridgeway.
During the 1880s, laborers carved the original highway out of the mountains using pickaxes, shovels and dynamite. Today’s route generally follows the old roadbed.When building the highway in the 1880s, workers were often lowered by rope hundreds of feet down the steep canyon walls to carve a roadbed through the most inaccessible sections.
They’d bore dynamite holes then light extra long fuses that gave the crews above enough time to pull up their co-workers before each explosion.
Occasionally, however, some did not make it up in time.

The highway from Silverton to Ouray through Red Mountain Pass is one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever ridden on.
Many consider this 24-mile-long section the “real” Million Dollar Highway.
From Ouray, the Million Dollar Highway levels out and ends a few miles north in the green, scenic ranching area of Ridgeway.

If I didn't have a schedule to keep, I’d have turned around and ridden the 88 miles once again in the opposite direction.
Cruising along this winding ribbon of asphalt through these steep, rugged, forested mountains remains one of my most memorable motorcycle rides and a great destination.

No comments:

Post a Comment