Scenic USA - Colorado

Owl Creek Pass

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Owl Creek Pass - Ouray County, Colorado

Photos by Roger Gillette


      As autumn is always a splendid time of year to visit Colorado's scenic byways, this high mountain pass cuts through the San Juan Mountain Range, bordering on the edge of the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. Anchored by two fourteeners, the Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre peaks, more well-known summits tower over glacial carved valleys and vast aspen groves.
     Most Colorado sightseers are content following US Route 550, a mountainous two-lane highway that runs in a north-south direction just west of the Continental Divide. One section of Route 550, between Silverton and Ouray, has been dubbed the Million Dollar Highway. Owl Creek Pass - Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado While nobody knows for sure about the name's history, some believe it was the price tag per mile of the high altitude route. Others say it harkens back to the days when gold and silver ore was transported from the mines to the smelter in Silverton. Still others say it has to do with the priceless scenery, turning a rich golden hue in late September. Visitors hoping to catch this spectacular fall landscape must time it just right. There's a short period of time when the brilliant foliage is at its peak, and it's rather evident from this view at Owl Creek Pass, winter comes early in the Rockies.
     While a section of Route 550, especially where it traverses the Uncompahgre Gorge, climbs steep grades, chases a number of hairpin curves and is generally a challenging drive, some of the more adventurous travelers turn onto Owl Creek Pass Road. This is a well maintained gravel road (suitable for most passenger cars) heads up and through the Uncompahgre National Forest, cresting at Owl Creek Pass (10,114 feet). Connecting the towns of Cimarron and Ridgway, this 40 mile route is a great place to enjoy autumn's spectacular San Juan Mountain scenery and mountainsides covered in golden aspens. The High Mesa Pinnacles, Chimney and Courthouse rocks, and the Owl Creek Pass Ridge add more drama to some of the most breathtaking mountain vistas in Colorado.

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