Descending from Red Mountain Pass towards Ouray


When we left Durango we went straight north through Silverton, Ouray and down into Montrose before turning east towards Gunnison. I almost decided not to take this route pulling the trailer. We can go up anything, but I was concerned about overheating the brakes on long, steep descents if I ended up having insufficient engine braking to maintain a safe speed. I had bought a Mountain Directory West for Truckers, RV and Motorhome Drivers before we left Texas and it said the following; "Red Mountain Pass is between Silverton and Ouray on US 550. [Bold print] It is not a designated truck route and if you have driven it you will understand why. Truckers should go into Ouray from the north and Silverton from the south. The northbound descent from Red Mountain Pass into Ouray has numerous sharp curves, steep grade, and in many places almost no shoulder at all before the edge of the mountain. The northbound descent from the summit of Red Mountain Pass toward Ouray [our route] is listed by the Colorado Dept. of Highways at 7% and more. The descent begins with a 25 mph speed limit. During the first 3 1/2 miles there are at least ten hairpin turns with speed limits of 10 and 15 mph. The speed limit then goes to 40 mph with curves and then to 55 mph with curves. The grade eases and you think the hill is over but it's not. After about 2 1/2 miles of lesser grade there is a truck warning sign and the speed limit goes back to 25 mph. The next 5 1/2 miles are back to about 7% grade with constant 10, 15, and 20 mph hairpin turns. There are two tunnels. There is very little shoulder in places. Some of the haripin turns are very tight and there is no room to swing wide because of vertical rock walls or vertical dropoffs. The grade and hairpin turns continue all the way into Ouray, 12 1/2 miles down from the summit." And that's only ONE of three passes you must go over from Durango to Ouray. I researched and researched and talked and talked to other people. It was the talking to people who had done it that made me try it. The guy in the space next to us in Durango arrived from the north in a gas motorhome towing a pickup truck and said he'd had no trouble. He had never disconnected his truck to have his wife drive it separately and he had never pulled over to cool the brakes; only to let people pass. Virtually all motorhomes have drum brakes not disc. It all turned out to be much ado about not nothing, but little. As you can see, this road was so far from hair-raising that I took pictures as I drove down the grade. I will admit I took none on the sharp switchbacks nor on the one place in the road that it was narrower than two full lanes (by about a foot) nor on the part where there was no shoulder or guard rail, but really, this is just a beautiful trip if you gear it down and take your time. The following pictures were all taken as we descended in first gear at about 20 mph, pulling over when possible to let people behind us pass. I probably used the brakes less than fifteen times in the entire 30 minute descent and that was only for a couple seconds each time. When we got to the bottom I felt the wheels of the trailer and truck and they were about body temperature. Now, if I can do that why do we constantly smell hot brakes on cars towing nothing?

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