The Million Dollar Highway truly is one of America's greatest touring roads. This highway has always been the pathway to outdoor adventures in the San Juan Mountains, which is the southwest portion of the Rocky Mountain Range. The Million Dollar Highway (U.S. Highway 550) runs from Durango north to Montrose in this region and the entire one way trip is only 100 miles, but it a hundred miles of the most majestic scenery that one will ever see through the windows of an automobile!
During the summer season, it is as if an entire army of all terrain vehicles and Jeeps all head uphill on the Million Dollar Highway to play on the high elevation trails while the outdoor temperatures are comfortable. During the winter season, sports enthusiasts from around the globe head for the slopes at the local ski resorts. During the in-between seasons of fall and spring, the sightseeing cruisers dominate this old historic road. Taking a scenic drive to witness the spectacle of the lush green bloom season or looking at the changing tree leaf colors in autumn are popular things to do. Touring the Million Dollar Highway to see the frosted mountain peaks after the first early snow storm is also a worthwhile trip to log in the books!
Old man winter can move quickly in the Rocky Mountains, so be prepared to keep an eye on the weather reports during autumn. The climate can change dramatically from one elevation to the next during the fall season, so if it is raining at the 7,000 foot level near Durango, then it will likely be snowing a few thousand feet higher uphill.
The photo slideshow features the Million Dollar Highway from Hermosa Creek north to Ridgway. Dozens of snow capped mountain peaks can be seen along this section of road, so be sure to pack a good camera. Above the 10,000 foot level, the first snow drapes the pristine landscape and only wildlife footprints can be seen. The first snowfall of the season is nearly always a bit too light for the cross country skiers and snow shoe hikers to carve up, so the landscape lies in a natural state. There are also some amazing views of high elevation lakes that have not yet frozen over and the reflections of the snow capped peaks on the calm water do present a one of a one of kind photo opportunity.
Traveling through the small towns along the Million Dollar Highway between the peak summer and winter tourist seasons has its perks, because there will be no large crowds or waiting lines. Towns like Ouray celebrate Halloween in a big way, so checking out the cool looking Halloween decorations while passing through is part of the charm. Fall is also the wildlife migration and rutting season, so it pays to be wary of wildlife near the road. As can be seen in the photos, slowing down or stopping to let deer or elk cross the road is part of the routine. Pulling off on the road shoulder with the hazard lights turned on to let a family of deer cross the road does send a signal to other drivers to slow down and good photo opportunities will arise as well.
Touring the Million Dollar Highway during the late autumn season definitely is a rewarding experience! The views of the snow capped mountain peaks are pure inspiration at its best and the memories will last a lifetime. The fresh clean air is invigorating and it makes it easy to shake off the fall season blues. This is reason enough to put some fuel in the tank, pack a picnic basket and get the show on the road!
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