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Old 01-07-2012, 04:58 PM
Location: Colorado Springs
18,885 posts, read 8,867,123 times
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Originally Posted by daschmit View Post
[SIZE=3]Locals will have to correct me if my information is erroneous, but it is my understanding that portions of the Million Dollar Highway which do not have guardrails are so equipped for good reason: avalanches occur with sufficient regularity in those areas that it truly is not cost-efficient to constantly replace them.[/SIZE]
Could be. A friend of mine who is retired CDOT, but always worked here in eastern Colorado, told me it because with no shoulder it made it more difficult to plow the snow off the road. Makes sense, as does your suggestion. Perhaps both. Of course, I know there's at least one snow shed on 550 now.
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Old 01-08-2012, 11:51 AM
Location: Wherabouts Unknown!
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mizzle wrote:
IMO there is no excuse for not having guardrails or other safety devices installed on that road. It's ridiculously dangerous.
Hate to break it to you buddy, but the REALITY is this: there is obviously at least one excuse for not having guardrails or other safety devices installed on that road
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Old 01-08-2012, 12:04 PM
Location: Edina, MN, USA
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My mother always asked me: "Aren't you afraid of anything?"

I now have an answer: Yes, the Million Dollar Highway
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Old 01-08-2012, 01:19 PM
Location: SW Missouri
15,527 posts, read 29,233,815 times
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Originally Posted by jim9251 View Post
There's a local joke about guardrails. The tourists keep knocking them down.

Just drive safe and enjoy the scenery.
As I recall the last "over the edge" fatality was a local. Hauling heavy equipment on a trailer at about 4 am (dark), going about 50 in a 35 mile per hour speed zone, he hit some loose gravel and *ploop* over the edge he went.

Complacency is an ugly thing.

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Old 01-08-2012, 01:43 PM
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Wink Some certain attention

For all the potential tourists out there now perhaps thinking a scenic drive between Durango and Ouray isn't worth their life -- you can relax.

Odds are if you meet oblivion in a car, it will be somewhere else. There are in fact any number of places in Colorado, and elsewhere, where driving off the side of the road would be a very bad idea. Even with those fancy places with lots of guardrails, a good chance there are still lots of places where even they at last wouldn't put a guardrail, but in flying off the road you could still do yourself a lot of damage. Only when geography presents literally about one inch of road to the right of the white side line, followed by perhaps three hundred feet or so of nearly sheer cliff, that tends to focus one's attention.

Most of this segment of US 550 is not like this, and of the more mundane variety of where one would only run into a rock wall, off through the forest, or a meadow, or just a more mild incline to flip over a few times. Look around, particularly anywhere there are mountains, and one can find plenty of places like that. Look in the news, and you can probably find instances of someone, even in Iowa and presumably flat enough, doing something suitably stupid.

So, yes, they could plaster guardrails along every single inch of all roads, just in case. Just like they could forbid driving in the mountains in general, on principal. Or definitely cut down in auto fatalities by mandating no one, ever, anywhere, ever drive over 20mph. There are certain tradeoffs. But one thing to keep in mind, when weighing one's options and odds, are that the vast majority of people traverse US 550 without incident, and surely richer for the experience. That those more local can drive it for a lifetime without undue problem.

That also, as scenic as I-70 can be through the mountains, in four lanes, guardrails, and presumably all the safety one could want, it can never present the same experience as still afforded by such routes as Independence Pass, or US 550. All scenic, but part of the innate charm of these two later routes precisely because they have not been 'improved' beyond all measure. Wolf Creek Pass, for that matter, in being faster, easier, and arguably safer now since 'improved,' was a far more memorable drive before. Also one most managed to survive just fine, if, admittedly, perhaps sometimes wondering why.

Thus, as more often the case, the problem begins, and can end, with the driver. First in dispelling unnecessary ignorance and superstition of what is a perfectly fine, if mountainous, road. And then in balanced measure a due respect for what is involved. Just this and no more would see far fewer traffic problems throughout this land. But, with US 550, insure one has the opportunity later to rave about the scenery in their leisure and good health.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:32 PM
Location: Colorado Springs
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Well, if what you're seeking is "a far more memorable drive", then why didn't we leave it as Otto Mears left it. No need to pave it or make it two lanes wide.
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Old 01-08-2012, 06:45 PM
Location: Colorado Springs
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Idunn, I just want to make sure you understand that I realize your point is view is a valid point of view. And so I don't give it short shrift. And, you expressed yourself well.

I guess my point of view is that there are a couple of types of highways in Colorado.

One type are what I'll call highways of choice. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mtn. Nat'l. Park, Rim Road in Colorado National Monument, the highways up Pikes Peak and Mount Evans, the road over Guanella Pass, and so forth. With rare exceptions, those roads are tourist roads, and no one has to drive over them.

Route 550 certainly has its tourists. But for many people it's not a road of choice. It is a federal numbered highway that connects western New Mexico (from the Albuquerque and Farmington areas) to a number of communities in western Colorado (Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Montrose, Delta, and Grand Junction...more communities than much of I-25 at similar latitudes). Commercial trucks (including gasoline tankers) make commercial deliveries over it on a daily basis, ambulances use it, school buses use it, and lots of everyday drivers who are not tourists. It's part of the National Highway System, and I've traveled an awfully lot, and I can't think of another federal highway that has the conditions US-550 has in some spots. That's not to say I haven't been on scarier roads. The scariest road I've driven on is route 120 going east out of Yosemite National Park...but that's not part of the federal highway system, it's a state highway open only for a few months each summer, and is used almost exclusively for tourism purposes.

Well, there's not much more to say. I think Colorado ought to better on a few sections of this federally recognized highway. And again, I'm not saying redo the entire stretch of highway...just a few sections, and to do that in a way that doesn't totally detract from the beauty of what's there.
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Old 05-20-2012, 01:04 PM
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Default north vs south 550

Vacation looms near, trying to decide north or south 550. I was told on this forum the most drop offs on 550 are on the south bound lane from Ouray to Silverton but according to google maps it seems the northbound lane has the most. I would rather be nervous for the shortest amount of time also which has the best scenic view looking toward the north or south.
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Old 05-20-2012, 01:33 PM
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As far as overall length of road with dropoffs on the driving lane, I don't think that there is much difference. But, for extremity of dropoffs, both in proximity to road and for height, the southbound lane from Ouray to the top of Red Mountain Pass takes the prize. The northbound lanes coming into Silverton off of Molas have some "interesting" spots, as does the northbound lane for short distance below Red Mountain Pass on its south side. Driving either way is quite scenic, with a different perspective in each direction. US550 is just NOT for people with fear of heights and fear of steep dropoffs from roads. Period.

As noted before, I've driven this road hundreds upon hundreds of times under all conditions. I know what I'm talking about. I'll be driving it again several times in the next 2-3 weeks.
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Old 05-20-2012, 03:41 PM
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The steepest part of Red Mountain Pass is the area just south of Ouray. Other than that, the road isn't all that steep. Personally, I think Wolf Creek is A LOT steeper than Red Mountain.

The road is scenic no matter which lane you're in, but if you aren't comfortable driving on a road that is very narrow and has a lot of tight switchbacks, Red Mountain isn't for you...
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