Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 22, 2012. The Hawthornes Leave Durango, Colorado, And Travel The Million Dollar Highway.

Enjoy the pictures
as the Hawthornes leave Durango, Colorado.

We'll be traveling across
the Million Dollar Highway -
a most exceptional ride.

We stopped at a gas station
and I had to get some puppy love.

This is Royale,
a 125-pound baby.
Yes, he's still growing.
His mistress is a produce purveyor
and Royale loves veggies.
He'll go through a five pound bag of carrots
in nothing flat
and he loves broccoli and kale.
and he's a sweetheart.
Check out the snow piled up.

The Durango bike club was out in full force.

Now, we're on the Million Dollar Highway.
This highway forms a 25-mile swirling ribbon 
through the San Juan mountains
on US 550 between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado.
"Spectacular" doesn't come close to describing it.

There are no barricades
and it's a shear drop off on my side of the road.

This highway was first blazed by Otto Mears,
"Pathfinder of the San Juans,"
a five foot tall Russian immigrant
who worked as a U.S. mail carrier between Silverton and Telluride.
By 1882, Mears had created a rather lucrative
toll road that he parlayed into a sizeable empire
of roads and railroads.
His original hand-carved route through the mountains
formed the basis of the Million Dollar Highway.

The name "Million Dollar Highway"
is shrouded in myth.
One explanation explains that it was first used after
a traveler, complaining of the vertigo-inducing steepness 
of the route, declared, "I wouldn't go that way again
if you paid me a million dollars.
Some people claim that the name derives from the actual cost
of paving the route in the 1930s.
A more likely explanation is that when the highway was
first constructed, the builders used gravel
discarded by nearby gold and silver mines,
only to find out later that the dirt was rich in ore
and worth an estimated million dollars.

This is Molas Pass,
elevation 10,899 feet.

You can see frozen Lake Molas in the background.

People were actually skiing down this mountain.
You can see the tracks,
but the skiers are in the tree line now.

Imagine a vast shallow ocean covering much of
what is now Southwest Colorado.
The shoreline constantly changed as the ocean
fluctuated in size.
Prehistoric rivers deposited silt and sand
into the ocean and small marine creatures flourished.
Evidence of this is found in the marine fossils -
crinoids, gastropods, and brachiopods -
which can be found in the sedimentary layers at Molas Pass.
Over time, this material compressed into thick
layers of sedimentary rock - siltstone, sandstone, 
and fossil-bearing limestone.

Ocean sediments at Molas Pass
are now over 10,000 feet above sea level
and are turned on edge towards the south and west.
Volcanic ash forms the top layer.

About 70 million years ago,
the earth's crust began to rise,
lifting the ancient sea bed over a mile high,
forming the San Juan Dome.
Then a great volcanic period began to reshape the landscape.
A chain of volcanoes over 100 miles long
formed the backbone of the San Juan Mountains.
Lava belched out towards the east
and the land was covered with thick layers of ash.
As the eruptions abated, the cooling magma
released a "mineral soup" into small cracks,
leaving behind deposits of lead, copper, silver, and gold.

As the volcanoes grew, erosional forces tore them down 
until only the volcanic roots remain.
During the last ice age,
which locally ended about 15,000 years ago,
massive glaciers up to 1/2 mile thick
scoured the mountains and filled the valleys.
The glaciers have long since melted,
but the process of erosion continues 
to sculpt the San Juan Mountains.

Frozen Lake Moras.

The town of Silverton, Colorado.

Skier with his dog.

I don't know what this truck was doing on this highway
but Mr. Hawthorne pulled over so he could get by.

Plaque erected in honor of 
Otto Mears
Pathfinder of the San Juan
Pioneer Road Builder
Built this road in 1881
Erected by a Grateful People

Otto Mears was a successful pioneer businessman in southwestern Colorado in the late 1800s.  His vision, pioneering spirit and engineering expertise linked southwestern Colorado to the outside world, first with toll roads and then with narrow gauge rail across the San Juan Mountains.  In 1873, he also helped negotiate the Brunot Treaty with Chief Ouray, last of the great Ute chiefs.   He contributed to opening up mining in Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride and carried the first mail into Ouray in 1875.  In 1882-32, Mears and Fred Walsen built the 12 miles of the Ouray and Red Mountain Toll road between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass.  That wagon road later became known as the "Million Dollar Highway."

The Ouray and Red Mountain Toll Road was the most difficult road building project Mears attempted.  The dangerous passage through the Uncompahgre River Canyon was expensive and difficult to build, with the toll road costing nearly $10,000 per mile at the time.  They had to lower men on ropes from the canyon rim to blast the quartzite walls with charges of dynamite.  

By placing the toll booth at Bear Creek Falls above the Uncompahgre River Canyon floor, Mears made it impossible to get around without paying a toll.  Mears charged a $5.00 toll per wagon team and $1.00 for each head of livestock.

If you look closely next to the waterfall,
you can see preserved ripple marks formed by moving water.
The vertical orientation tells us that these rocks
were tilted and were later eroded
before younger rock was deposited on top of them.

This is Mount Abram.

The rocks of the San Juan Mountains record a complex geologic history spanning more than 1.4 billion years of deposition, metamorphism, faulting, folding, erosion, intrusion, uplift, volcanism, canyon cutting, and glaciation.

The top half of Mt. Abram was form by San Juan volcanics. The bottom half is the Pre-Cambian  Uncompahgre Formation - the oldest rock exposed here and it was eroded from even older mountains.  The formation consists mostly of sandstone and shale which have been metamorphosed into quartzite and slate.

Around 66 million years ago, the area was uplifted, eroding the underlying rocks.  Numerous volcanic eruptions began around 38 million years ago, blasting large quantities of ash and debris across southwestern Colorado.  These deposits make up the purple cliffs of the San Juan formation.
The liquid magma under the earth's surface was rich in precious metals, such as gold, silver, lead, zinc, and copper.  As this magma oozed through existing rocks, it cooled and created rich mineralized zones.  This mineralization fueled a mining boom in the 1870s.
Following a long period of violent volcanic activity, the area was dissected by streams and subjected to further uplift, creating high mountains and steep, narrow valleys.  The terrain was also shaped by several ice advances, the youngest one retreating about 16,000 years ago.  Bear Creek Falls flows from the mouth of a hanging valley, which formed where a small glacier joined with a larger one.

Evidence of the erosive power of glaciers is seen along the lower reaches of the Bear Creek Trail, where slate has been polished smooth by grit-filled ice grinding across the rock.  Striations can be seen on these polished surfaces, where particles of rock in the ice gouged lines into the slate.  Even today, geologic processes are at work as the San Juan Mountains continue to rise and the Uncompahgre River carves deeper into the valley.

The town of Ouray - terminus of the Million Dollar Highway.

Mule deer.

We ended up in Montrose, Colorado, for the night.

Please stay tuned for my "lunch."


Anonymous said...

Oh no, seeing lunch in quotes is not a good sign. Thanks for the geology lesson, learned something new today. Your pics are fantastic!

Lea said...

Gorgeous! Much better than "flat"!

Marilyn said...

Thanks. Very interesting. And very pretty.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Thank you all!