There are many stories about how Colorado's Route 550 got its moniker as the Million Dollar Highway. Some claim it came from an early traveler who stated she would drive the cliff-hugging road again only if she was paid a million dollars. Other stories claim the nickname finds its origins in the million-dollar views of the San Juan mountains and yet another suggests it could be due to the high cost of building the road.
Whatever the reason behind the name, the Million dollar highway continues to be a familiar name on the top ten list of scenic routes in the US as this excerpt explains: "Consistently voted as one of the top ten scenic highways in the United States, the 70-mile Million Dollar Highway twists and turns through the mountains, providing visitors with breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountain Range and the Uncompahgre Gorge, as well as numerous opportunities to stop or turn off to visit places such as the Victorian-age mining towns of Durango, Silverton, and Ouray; the Red Mountain Mining District ghost towns of Red Mountain City and Ironton, ride a narrow-gauge railroad, hike miles of trails, and ride a jeep over America’s highest backroads."
Despite its breathtaking views, the Million Dollar Highway also happens to be one of the most dangerous roads in the US on account of steep cliff and hairpin curves as the highway climbs up to 11,000 feet above sea level.
What's more, there are no guardrails.
The lack of guardrails has been attributed to the fact that snow plows in winter cannot push up the snow against the guardrails thus blocking the roads. Throw in the occasional rock slides and heavy snow and there is a sure-fire recipe for accidents to occur.
However, reports point out that many of the accidents on the Million Dollar Highway have happened in dry weather: "In 16 years from 1995 to 2010, nine people were killed in eight incidents on Red Mountain Pass. There were 302 total accidents in that period. Of those, most occurred in dry conditions, and a majority involved only one vehicle."