I bet you’ve heard it many times – life is a highway. Possibly a song queues up in your brain’s juke box like it does in mine.
That song, Life is a Highway, immediately starts playing in my head and lyrics blast from my mouth. Originally written and sung by Tom Cochrane in the early 1990’s, the song was made popular by Rascal Flatts as the theme song for the Disney animated movie, Cars.
Traveling by car on a spectacular highway is today’s focus on my Tuesday Tour as I continue to share Papa’s and my 1979 autumn trip to the San Juan Mountains (part of the Rockies) in southwestern Colorado.
“All roads are tough, but you have to choose the one you know you’ll never be sorry for taking.” ~ Chris Burkmenn
One of the roads we traveled during our week-long stay was definitely a spectacular scenic drive, yet also a nail biter, but one we weren’t sorry we took. Dubbed the Million Dollar Highway, this two-lane road tests your driving skills as you maneuver through Mineral Creek Valley and encounter sharp grades, hairpin turns, and cross over three mountain passes.
There are varying theories on why this scenic highway is named thusly. Some say constructing the highway in the 1920’s cost over $1 million per mile. Other folks think the highway’s name came from the awe-inspiring views. And yet another claim is that literally the dirt used to fill in the road contained a million dollars’ worth of gold ore.
Whatever the truth may be, it is one highway visitors won’t soon forget. One stretch of road that traverses travelers from the Red Mountain Pass, with an elevation of over 11,000 feet, through the Uncompahgre Gorge is one that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
I have to surmise that this drive was so scary that I stayed busy ascertaining that Papa didn’t drive us over the side of the mountain and that’s why I don’t have many photos taken with my 35 mm film camera from way back then.
Million Dollar Highway consists of narrow lanes of traffic overlooking very steep cliffs and there are no guardrails. You read that correctly, no guard rails! And apparently, it remains the same now as it did in 1979 when we drove on it.
A co-worker recommended this drive as a “must see” for us and we learned she was right. We started out on the Million Dollar Highway (US Route 550) from the mining town of Silverton, where we previously visited via the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. The drive eventually took us to a lookout point, where we could view another tiny town of just 0.8 square miles, Ouray.
Nestled in the mountains, Ouray’s nickname is “Switzerland of America.” Its history began in 1876 when the town became incorporated, not long after Colorado became a US state. Ouray also calls itself the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado,” with many outdoor activities available.
One of the well-visited sites on our itinerary to see in Ouray was Box Canyon Falls. The falls, an 85-foot torrent of water, is located inside a park of the same name. Canyon Creek narrows and shoots through boulders there gushing thousands of gallons of water a minute.
Quite a sight to behold and I recall how loud is was as the falls thundered down into a 100-foot walled canyon of quartzite. My old film photos and not-so-great photography skills truly don’t show how dramatic and astonishing it is, but you can tell how dark it was at the bottom of the falls where the creek continued on by the photo below.
All too soon, it was time for us to leave the mountains and the forest and head back to the prairie – the plains of Oklahoma where duty and work called our names.
On our way back, we traveled through Wolf Creek Pass, a high and very steep mountain pass on the Continental Divide. We stopped at the summit (elevation 11.904 feet) in hopes of seeing some snow but all we found was one little patch.
One memorable sight and decent photograph I captured was a copse of aspen trees just beginning to turn their lovely lemon-yellow color as we traveled through the San Juan Mountains. Our mountain getaway was one we’ll not forget.
As I look back on the many highways we’ve traveled during our 40+ years of marriage, some roads we traveled in life turned out great, some were difficult and trying, but all were blessings in some way. I’m grateful for them and hopeful for more roadways of life to capture on my Tuesday Tour.
“They say life is a highway and we all travel our own roads, some good, some bad, yet each is a blessing of its own.” ~ Jess “Chief” Brynjulson