Driving up Highway 550 north of Durango, CO has to be one of the most gorgeous drives in the country.
Nicknamed ‘The Million Dollar Highway’, this road reportedly cost $1,000,000 to build……per mile. At least for a particular 25-mile stretch of the 305-mile loop.
And, that was in 1881! So if you’re interested, accounting for inflation, the purchasing power of $1 million in 1881 was equivalent to $24 million now. $24 million x 25 miles = $625 million to build it, in today’s dollars.
And let me tell you, as far as I'm concerned, the sights we saw as we drove up to Silverton were totally worth all those zeros, haha!
The curving, winding path up around and between the mountains offered some simply breathtaking views. It was almost like sensory overload for my brain! Thankfully, I survived the incredible visual stimulus.
Whether or not we would survive that drive is actually something that occurred to me several times. I noticed pretty quickly that we were gaining drastic elevation, and there were steep cliffs dropping down into unseen depths just a few feet from my passenger-side window as we zoomed along on the side of the mountain faces. Yet, there were no guardrails.
So, while I at first said, “Oh honey, look at this!!!”, Scott soon reminded me that he better keep looking at the road, if we wanted to live. I told him I had only seen a few cars down in the valleys at the foot of the cliffs. HA.
I admit I kept asking Scott to stop so I could take pictures. He is an exceedingly patient man. The photographer in me just couldn’t pass up the stunning picture opportunities around every corner. The conversation went something like this, about a dozen times:
Me: “oooooo, so pretty! Need picture. Pull over here!”
Scott: “ok….just as soon as there’s a place to actually pull over!”
There were very few shoulders on that crazy road! Mostly, the shoulder was about 2 feet of gravel, then 45-degree angled descent. So, I had to settle for the few pictures I got. But, while I wasn’t able to capture it all in photos, my eyes were almost overwhelmed with the dramatic landscape of grand, rugged, majestic mountain beauty.
It was amazing.
At last as the sun was disappearing behind the peaks in what seemed like an abnormally-early sunset (days are short in the valleys between such tall mountains!), we caught our first sight of Silverton.
This is quite the quirky little city! With a population of 637, it is tiny. We did not see a single stoplight, and only the occasional stop sign. And, there aren’t many new buildings, in the downtown, at least; all of them looked pretty authentically 1800s to me!
We ate dinner at a fun little 'Cornish tavern' kind of place, called Eureka Station.
Dinner was hearty and delicious, served on a rustic beaten-tin platter. The specialty of the house was something called 'pasties', which, the menu informed us, is pronounced "pass-teez". It harkens back to the mining days of Silverton, when immigrants, many from Cornwall, England, would take these for their lunch. They are basically a handheld potpie, except the crust is a little more substantial than that.
The menu offered a mini history lesson, which we enjoyed reading while we awaited our dinner. The shape of the Cornish pasty was specifically made for the miners to hold just the crimped hook edge of the pasty, so that their fingers, which were covered with poisonous arsenic residue from the mining process, would not contaminate the entire pasty. They ate as close as they dared to their fingers grasping the pasty, and then threw the part of the crust they had touched away.
I ordered the Chicken Potpie Pasty, and Scott got the The Traditional Pasty, which had pot roast. Both were steaming hot, filled with generous chunks of meat and veggies, and had a thick gravy oozing out with each bite, plus extra gravy for dipping. They were accompanied by a suberb little salad of stredded kale and brussels with a sweet vinaigrette and almonds, which I thought was just a nice fresh compliment to the heaviness of the entree. The pasties themselves were very filling, and we actually had enough leftovers to make a great lunch the following day!
Now, I tried not to take pictures of EVERY meal we ate that week, but Scott and I are serious 'foodies', and trying new foods is one of our favorite parts of traveling. This meal was quite unique and memorable, and felt very authentic to the setting in the old mining town, so I thought it worth mentioning.
The main means of transportation, for the tourist population at least, seemed to be these super-sporty little ATVs. They were everywhere we looked—some 2 passenger, others could fit 4— and I took a picture of this particular one, since I knew my 5-yr-old son loves all things with wheels, and would be especially impressed with one in his favorite color: orange.
They are of course available to rent, and visitors to the town can take them up the mountain trails as an alternative to some steep, difficult hiking. We decided that if/when we bring our kids to Durango for their first time, in a few years, we will go back to Silverton and rent a couple of these to explore the nearby mountains. They look quite exciting!
That wraps up our evening in Silverton, but stay tuned for my next post because after we left the city, we stopped at an overlook for me to try my hand at some astrophotography of the Milky Way!
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Related posts on my first trip back to my hometown: