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Topic: Hwy 550 Silverton to Ouray CO

Posted By: Skip N Barb Team on 08/28/12 10:19pm

We're staying just a few miles north of Durango, CO. Decided to take a drive, today, to Silverton, and then on to Ouray, about a forty mile run. What a beautiful trip!!

On our way back from Ouray, we saw some RVers on the side of the road. We stopped to give aid to an older class C, but he said his rig had vapor-locked, and had just restarted.

We saw a semi on the side with the driver checking out his brakes, and followed a forty footer class A down a mountain, until he pulled over near the bottom. I slowed down when we passed and tooted our horn, but he waved us on.

We were in elevations probably between 10 and 12 K feet.

Since we've been looking hard at going to to a D/P, with the engine and air brakes, how much of a problem can we really expect on the steep and longer down hill runs?

I know there's many different situations, as driving habits and maintenance, but is this a real problem with the larger rigs?

I would also like to hear from you guys with the class A gas engines, since we've been looking at them also.



Posted By: FIRE UP on 08/28/12 11:20pm

Skip N Barb,
The 550 in that section of Colorado has been discussed here just a few times. There are folks what absolutely WILL NOT run that section and there's others that have no problem what so ever. We've ran that section, both ways, several times with multiple RVs. Our last run was from Ouray to Durango with our new to us, 2004 Itasca Horizon 36GD with the 330 CAT engine.

It's absolutely no problem running that road with a diesel RV. Yep, you're going to slow down due to the curves, height, elevation runs, and more but, it's no big deal. Just drive it and don't worry about it. Some folks are more adapt to this kind of driving and some aren't.

As you've already noticed, it's one of the most beautiful drives there is in that part of the state. One would miss some fantastic scenery if they "avoided" this run due to thoughts of incapability.

It's a road, you go up, you turn, you go down. About 98% of the Diesel rigs out there today have some form of exhaust brake or true "Jake Brake" on them so, that kind of assistance in braking is a real confidence builder and service brake longevity builder for stretches like that one. No one, with the exception of motorcycles (we've ran that same stretch on motorcycles too) can run that road hard and fast anyway. EVERYONE takes it fairly slow.

Yep, you'd most likely build some traffic behind you but, there's plenty of turn outs every so often for being courteous. You can do it with whatever RV you buy. If you noticed on your test run of that road, you didn't see any RV skeletons did you? So, no one's just stopped and quit. Be guided by your abilities and thoughts. Surely if you think you'd not do good on it, then by all means, don't do it.

But, you've already ran it, so, now you'd be doing it with a larger rig, that's it. Good luck. The picture below is what we ran that 550 with the last time, around Sept of '11.


Scott and Karla
2004 Itasca Horizon, 36GD Slate Blue 330 CAT
2011 GMC Sierra 1500 Ext Cab 4x4 Toad
2008 Caliente Red LVL II GL 1800 Goldwing

Posted By: The Texan on 08/28/12 11:26pm

Skip, we did that run with our coach and toad last year, from Ouray to Durango.....A DP has either an exhaust brake or an engine brake and if used properly, you should NEVER have any problem descending a mountain. IMO, a DP has much better mountain driving abilities than a gas rig, both in the actual brakes and with a engine brake or exhaust brake. We have had both and would never return to a gas class A, living out west like we do.

Bob & Betsy - USN Aviation Ret'd '78 & LEO Ret'd '03 & "Oath Keeper Forever"
2005 HR Endeavor 40PRQ, '11 Silverado LT, Ex Cab 6.2L NHT 4x4, w/2017 Rzr 4-900 riding in 16+' enclosed trailer in back.
Where the wheels are stopped today

Posted By: popeye766 on 08/29/12 12:25am

Hello Folks...
550 in Colorado is a beautiful , beautiful trip.......i have done it several times....
I would never punish my RV with that trip....up or down....I dont care what kinda of RV you have......But its a wonderful trip for your toad for a day trip.

Tom USN Ret.

Posted By: Ivylog on 08/29/12 03:37am

Well, now we've heard from both sides. Those of us who have a DP with a turbo and a exhaust/Jake brake so mountain driving is not an issue. Popeye has a new to him older gasser and until he gets use to it he probably should stay off of 550. The biggest problem with gassers is they do not have a turbo to keep the HP up a higher elevations. With proper gearing down a gas engine does a decient job of slowing a MH when going down hill.
My rig has a true engine brake (Jake Brake) and I go down with only having to use my regular brakes when the grade gets steeper or a sharp curve where I need a lower gear. As long as your temps stay below 215 and you do not use you're brakes to keep your speed down, I do not see where you are punishing your rig.

This post is my opinion (free advice). It is not intended to influence anyone's judgment nor do I advocate anyone do what I propose.

08 Holiday Rambler Navigator 45'
How I tow.
Towing a Prius without a dolly
Where am I?
How I spend the winter.

Posted By: daveshan on 08/29/12 06:46am

We just did that run for the first time about a month ago in our 36' Alpine towing my Cherokee. Ready to go and towing we're right at 30,000lbs and probably close to 60' long with "only" a 330/950 hp/tq ISC and the PacBrake instead of a true engine brake. The old girl did just fine and in fact it was a pure joy to drive. I've only been driving an A since late October of last year.

I'll admit after driving over a few times in my truck I was a bit worried but after we got over to Ouray I felt silly for ever sweating it. The tight curves at Red Mountain have wide skirts on the insides allowing big rigs to "cut" the corner and none of the other curves were an issue. The steep hills will tax cooling systems in hotter weather, we downshifted manually to keep rpm up instead of letting the Allison lug down 'till it thought it should downshift and all was good.

When looking we ignored the "if you don't drive XXXXX number of miles a year a DP isn't worth it" thinking for just this reason, driving one of these in the high country is just pure fun.

'99 Alpine 36SDS/8.3 ISC 330 Cummins
'05 Lance 845
'06 Super duty SC/SB 6.0
Upgrades include: StabilLoads, Air Bags & Timbrens,Swaybars

Usually towing an '01 Wrangler, lifted/locked on 35"s or a mildly built '98 Cherokee on 33"s (only one locker)

Posted By: zmotorsports on 08/29/12 07:07am

As others have stated an exhaust brake or even better an engine compression (Jake) brake makes driving these mountain passes much more pleasant.

We have driven over that section of Hwy 550 between Durango and Ouray/Montrose several times with our 40' Dynasty towing our Jeep. It has performed perfectly and the only issue was a few of the turns that didn't have guard rails made the wife a little nervous but the coach handled the curves and grade great. The last time over was two years ago and we followed a 45' Prevost XLII chassis coach towing a Hummer and we all did fine.

We were in Ouray just two weeks ago and we decided not to go over 550 and return home by way of Montrose, Grand Junction and then on up through Hwy 6 (Spanish Fork Canyon). The main reason we did not go to Durango on that trip is that we were towing our 26' Haulmark Edge loaded with the Jeep, our Harley and our son's Buell. We are right @ 72' long and didn't want to encroach upon the other lane when going over that particular pass and possibly having issues with oncoming traffic. There are a couple of turns that are almost 180 degree turns and our coach is almost line to line on our lane as is, the trailer would definately be over the center line on a couple of those turns. If we would have been flat-towing the Jeep we would definately gone over the pass.


2003 Monaco Dynasty/ 26' Haulmark Edge trailer
2011 Jeep Unlimited Rubicon

Posted By: Skip N Barb Team on 08/29/12 08:44am

OP here.

Thanks for the replies. Th DW got pretty nervous going over in our 3/4 ton truck....[emoticon]


Posted By: zman-az on 08/29/12 09:18am

Did it with our 26' 2011 Vista Class A flat towing our jeep last year. No problem at all, tow mode in tranny is a real nice feature. Unlike some other twisty roads at least this one does not have tree branches hanging past the side white line. Wife was a little freaked with some parts of the road. If you have a fear of heights you will not like this road.

Posted By: ncrowley on 08/29/12 04:49pm

We have gone from Durango to Ouray enough times in a car to know we do not want to do it with an RV. It is not that we cannnot do it - it is we do not want to do it. When we go from New Mexico to Montrose with the RV, we go straight north to Alamosa, to Gunnison and then west to Montrose rather than driving the road between Durango and Ouray, even though it is shorter.

One year, we drove the car from Durango to Ouray and we hit MAJOR snow. It was only the second week of September. If we did not have the Forester, we would not have made it.

Newmar Northern Star

Posted By: 2gypsies on 08/29/12 07:18pm

We have driven Hwy 550 from Ouray to Durango and vice versa 6-8 times and really enjoy it. Our exhaust brake works flawlessly and we have plenty of power to do the "ups", too. Today we came down Hwy 95 from the north into Lewiston, Idaho - another long steep grade (3 runaway truck ramps in a short distance) and we commented on how wonderful the exhaust brake is. Don't be hesitant in getting a Class A diesel. They're made to work.... However, not every driver is confident driving these kinds of roads. All of our full-timing travels are done in the west and off the interstates on roads such as the above. Good luck in your decision and hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Full-Timed for 16 Years
.... Back in S&B Again
Traveled 8 yr in a 40' 2004 Newmar Dutch Star Motorhome
& 8 yr in a 33' Travel Supreme 5th Wheel

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