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Old 12-16-2012, 05:29 PM
-C- -C- started this thread
 
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I'm relocating from LA and have to report to my new job in Fort Collins on January 14th. Since I get temporary housing I'm planning to send my stuff straight to storage and just take the essentials in my car (FWD Volvo V50) and enjoy the drive - I can take as much time as I need.

So after having a look at the Grand Canyon I'm thinking to stop in Durango for the night. Then take the whole day to drive US 550 up to I-70 to Glenwood Springs and find a place to stay and maybe enjoy a hot spring. Then on to my final destination the next day.

It seems like a nice route, any other suggestions?
I'm mostly concerned about the condition of US 550 in January since it doesn't appear to a be the conventional route between LA and Fort Collins/Denver. Would it be crazy to go that way in the middle of winter?

Thanks in advance!
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Old 12-16-2012, 05:37 PM
 
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You are right, it is NOT conventional. If you're not experienced in mountain driving in the winter, well, um this is not the road to learn how. After a bit a couple of the long time posters on this forum will be here to comment and hopefully post a picture or two.
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Old 12-16-2012, 06:22 PM
-C- -C- started this thread
 
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Ok, the tone in your post made me look a bit deeper lol.
Is part of US 550 like this...except covered with loose rocks, snow and ice?




That's an image of the "Million Dollar Highway" from Wikipedia. If that's still the case and there's no alternative route then maybe it's not such a good idea to be in that kind of unfamiliar territory in winter, regardless of driving skill.

Too bad, because it looks stunning and I have plenty of time and it might be a while before I can make it to the area again. Any other suggestions?
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Old 12-16-2012, 06:58 PM
 
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Wink Be advised

US 550 between Durango and Ouray is a quite scenic mountain route, one traversing three high passes of note. It can be all the more beautiful in passing through a winter wonderland—BUT unless one is capable and prepared for such things, a route not advisable unless the roads are clear (meaning not snow packed, and more or less dry). That is more a day by day or hour to hour call in the high San Juan come winter, so check road conditions in advance, and be prepared for an alternate route if conditions turn nasty.

It is not the type of road one wants to drive in a serious snow storm. Some tourists freak out over the lack of guardrails and high drop-offs even in summer.

If opting for something more traditional, 1-15 to 1-70, and thence Denver and Fort Collins is simple. Do know it is possible to encounter snow from St. George, UT to Fort Collins, if most likely encountered in the high mountains of Colorado, basically between Vail and Georgetown. If snow further north, the alternative southern route via I-40 and I-25 may be preferable, if with less but possible chance of snow. If as far as Durango, but opting against US 550, then possible in the somewhat easier route through Rico, CO; or more of a detour north through Moab, UT; or just remain on US 160 east to 1-25, if the relatively less treacherous passes of Wolf Creek and La Veta must be traversed.

US 550 through the San Juan is nothing to take lightly; have the right tires, chains, gear, etc. if considering it in winter, although that goes as well for the entire trip. All of it will be far more pleasant and safe if you travel during the right weather window. Avoid storms, and snow packed roads as much as possible (if prepared for same, in the event), and this could be an enjoyable jaunt.

You might even traverse the San Juan easily via US 550 with some great pictures to prove it, having all others wondering how you accomplished that. The secret of course lies in timing.

***

ps. Yes, part of the route will be exactly like that, as the portion of the "Million Dollar Highway" (US 550) descending north towards Ouray. There could be rocks on the road, and certainly even a better chance of snow. Not all the route is as precipitous, for instance that relatively tame between Durango and the San Juan county line.

Last edited by Idunn; 12-16-2012 at 07:10 PM..
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Old 12-16-2012, 07:56 PM
 
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I drive US550 frequently--in all seasons. I've posted about it many times before. It is a very unforgiving mountain highway--especially in winter. From Durango to Ouray, it has no less than 3 mountain passes near or above 11,000 feet elevation (Coal Bank Hill, Molas Pass, and Red Mountain Pass). Yes, there are places with very steep dropoffs and no gaurdrails. Yes, it can be subject to savage winter storms. And, in times of heavy snowfall or unstable snowpack, there are a number of places where snowslides run frequently. In short, it is no place for "virgin" mountain drivers in winter. By that I mean, if you think that I-80 through the Sierras or I-70 through Colorado is mountain driving, then you probably aren't quite ready for US550--it takes mountain driving in winter to a whole new level. I've driven US550 for over 40 years, and I guarantee you, I give that stretch of highway the respect it deserves. Scenic it is, but it is no convenient "shortcut" to anyplace.
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Old 12-16-2012, 08:05 PM
 
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
5,673 posts, read 9,402,779 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by -C- View Post
I'm mostly concerned about the condition of US 550 in January since it doesn't appear to a be the conventional route between LA and Fort Collins/Denver. Would it be crazy to go that way in the middle of winter?

You mean the most avalanche-prone highway in the U.S.?
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Old 12-16-2012, 08:15 PM
 
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
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Originally Posted by -C- View Post
Too bad, because it looks stunning and I have plenty of time and it might be a while before I can make it to the area again. Any other suggestions?
You've got two other choices. One is to go from Durango to Cortez, and take hwy 491 to hwy 141, and then hwy 141 to hwy 145 over to Ridgeway. This route is off the beaten track, but completely avoids the mountains and stays in the desert. Then get on 550 in Ridegway and take it north to Grand Junction. I did that route in reverse one winter when my rental car would not make it past Ouray on 550 and would not make it on hwy 145 through Telluride.

Your second choice, is to go from Durango east to Pagosa Springs, and then try to take hwy 160 north over Wolf Creek pass to South Fork. Again, a steep road going through the mountains, who knows what conditions will be like at that time., but it is a much shorter jaunt through the mountains (about 25 miles compared to the 70 or 80 miles from Durango to Ouray.)
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Old 12-16-2012, 09:38 PM
-C- -C- started this thread
 
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Thanks, I was just going over hwy 145 and 160 and both seem much tamer.

I'm not completely discouraged from taking hwy 550 since, as said, it may largely depend on the weather at the particular time. Durango seems like a cool town to spend a little time and ultimately figure it out and at least now I know there are other directions to go from there.

Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the input and suggestions.
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Old 12-17-2012, 07:46 AM
 
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
5,673 posts, read 9,402,779 times
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Originally Posted by -C- View Post
Thanks, I was just going over hwy 145 and 160 and both seem much tamer.

I'm not completely discouraged from taking hwy 550 since, as said, it may largely depend on the weather at the particular time.
Keep in mind there's a big difference between weather at 5,000 feet, 8,000 feet, and at 11,000 feet. You'll be passing through all three, multiple times, on hwy 550. I dont know if you've ever driven through mountains in winter before, but you can go from completely dry conditions to a blizzard in the course of a few miles.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:48 AM
 
Location: Western Colorado
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HWY 145 doesn't go to Ridgway, HWY 62 connects to 145 then to 550. And driving over the Dallas Divide or Lizard Head Pass in winter isn't exactly a piece of cake. It gets very icy.

Well, just think of it as an adventure.

I found this on YouTube. Just pretend everything is white and the highways are ice covered.

"Million Dollar Highway" Ouray-Silverton-Durango - YouTube
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