blue lake

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Blue Lake: Download Artwork

blue lake

This artwork captures Blue Molas Lake in Colorado, next to the US550

Most of U.S. 550 in Colorado is two-lane mountainous highway. It is one of only two north–south U.S. Highways in Colorado which runs west of the Continental Divide. (The other route is US 491.) The route travels north through the San Juan Mountains.

U.S. Route 550 at the Uncompahgre Gorge

The Million Dollar Highway stretches for about 25 miles (40 km) in western Colorado and follows the route of U.S. 550 between Silverton and OurayColorado. It is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. Between Durango and Silverton the Skyway loosely parallels the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles (19 km) south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name. This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains. During this ascent, the remains of the Idarado Mine are visible. Travel north from Silverton to Ouray allows drivers to hug the inside of curves; travel south from Ouray to Silverton perches drivers on the vertiginous outside edge of the highway. Large RVs travel in both directions, which adds a degree of excitement (or danger) to people in cars.[6] The road is kept open year-round. Summer temperatures can range from highs between 70–90 °F (21–32 °C) at the ends of the highway to 50–70 °F (10–21 °C) in the mountain passes. The snow season starts in October, and snow will often close the road in winter. Chains may be required to drive.[7]

North of Durango, the highway passes by Trimble Springs, hot springs that have been open for visitors since the late 19th century. The highway runs north along the Animas River, under the Hermosa Cliffs. It enters the San Juan National Forest and goes past Haviland Lake and Electra Lake. Drivers pass by Engineer Mountain and Twilight Peak before crossing Coal Bank Pass. Next is Molas Pass, which offers a panoramic view of Molas Lake, the Animas River Gorge, and Snowdon Peak. Northbound travelers then pass through the town of Silverton, elevation 9,320 feet (2841 m), surrounded by 13,000 foot (4000 m) peaks Sultan MountainKendall Mountain, and Storm Peak.[7]

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