Going to the million dollar highway

As I was sitting here working on my laptop, my desktop’s current screensaver (the very nice Mosaica btw) fired up and started its usual process of streaming photos from my Flickr account. Of the many photos I’ve taken, the group that always gets my attention are the pictures we took at Glacier National Park, particularly those on the famous Going to the Sun Road.

It’s not that the photos I took were of any outstanding quality (and for the record, this photo that perfectly encapsulates that drive sadly isn't mine.) It’s simply the memory of a seemingly perfect day that they always bring back to me. The weather was beautiful with vivid blue skies. I was relaxing with family and exploring a new place, yet enjoying all these spectacular views from the comfort of familiar settings (my mom’s CRV, which is virtually identical to our own.) Everything about that day was fantastic.

And the road itself was spectacular. While I don’t mind enclosed heights, I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to open heights. So something like driving on the outward edge of a cliffside road with drop-offs of a 1,000+ feet often only a few feet away would seem like something to avoid. Maybe it was the dumbstruck awe you get from the breathtaking surroundings. Or perhaps the confidence you get from being in control of the vehicle (or the fact that there were 2.5’ tall barrier walls most of the way.) Either way it never bothered me at all.

Or maybe it was due to past experience. We’d visited family in Colorado in previous years and experienced numerous mountain roads and passes during the course of that trip. But most of those were actually fairly tame. However, one particular road will FOREVER stand out in my memory – the not-as-famous Million Dollar Highway (i.e., the road from Silverton to Ouray.)

While we had been with my immediate family for most of the trip, this was a portion of the trip which Holly and I were to experience alone. While waiting for our family to arrive in Silverton via the train from Durango, Holly and I planned drive up to the “nearby” town of Ouray. We knew there was a mountain pass involved, but we’d already done a few of those already - no biggie we thought. However, as we began our ascent up the pass (and on the outermost edge of the road for the record) we quickly came to realize that this was not going to be like our previous experiences.

Gone was the beautiful weather we’d previously enjoyed – a steady rain was falling making the road notably more slick. Gone were the guard rails which we’d come to take comfort in on other roads. Gone in fact were the white lines on the side where the road had literally crumbled away in various sections.

We began to consider turning back, but there was literally nowhere to turn around. We were committed so we had to ride it out to the top. After witnessing the crumbling white lines I was beginning to experience a bit of an endorphin rush and starting to take a perverse pleasure from the whole experience. Holly, however (three feet closer to the edge and able to literally look down the side the entire way) was not as thrilled.

As if to add unnecessary punctuation to the experience as we neared the top, we rounded one corner only to have to slam on our brakes to avoid an oncoming car which was using our lane to pass road workers repairing a section of the road. A little warning sign would be nice. Or at least a fresh pair of underwear.

We finally made it to the top. However, we decided we’d rather not go all the way to Ouray since we’d have to go back down the other side of the mountains and then do the WHOLE pass all over again. So we turned around and made our way back down the pass from the relative comfort of the inside lane.

Pictures were the last thing on our mind that day. Yet the experience was so visceral, I’ll never forget it. Still I hate that we were unable to snap any pictures to give people a visual clue for what the experience was like. A search on Flickr turned up photos, but almost always on sunny days and never in the more treacherous sections of the roadway (because it’s pretty much impossible to find a spot to pull over to take a photo via car.) However, I finally stumbled across this photo which does give a hint of what it was like that day. Picture riding along this for several miles from the oncoming lane. Good times.


Holly Browder said...

I absolutely love those memories; however, the thought of Ouray makes my stomach sick still to this day! Glad I did it because I am not going again where the white lines have fallen off...God bless guardrails.

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