My husband and I are planning a driving vacation this fall. We want to drive through areas that are famous for beautiful fall foliage when the leaves begin to change colors. As we mapped out our route across the United States, there were several highways we were determined to avoid. These thoroughfares have deadly reputations.
For a treacherous drive, the Million Dollar Highway of Colorado is a sure bet. It’s actually Highway 550 but for a twenty-five mile patch it goes by the nickname “Million Dollar Highway”. This part stretches between the tourist trap towns of Silverton and Ouray. As you rise over eleven thousand feet passing through the Red Mountain Pass, traveling into the San Juan Mountains, don’t even think about being distracted. Although it is considered a scenic route, to stay safe, skip checking out the scenery while you’re driving. This challenging drive features steep cliffs, fewer guardrails than it could use, hairpin curves and narrow lanes.
Arizona also has a deadly stretch of road on Interstate 10. The dangerous portion is the one hundred and fifty miles that links Phoenix to the border of California. What makes this portion of Interstate so deadly is that it stretches through the desert. Population is sparse so if you have an accident or run out of gas, you are on your own. Its remote location means your cellphone may be of little use to call for help. So, if you find yourself headed this way, fill up the gas tank and take along some extra water just in case!
Speaking of rural areas that create their own sort of danger, it doesn’t get any more remote than Montana’s Highway 2. This high plains region skirts Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. On the North Dakota end of the highway it is surrounded by the Hi-Line folk regions of the state. Small agricultural towns string along this remote thoroughfare. Most of the accidents that occur on this road are because people get a bit bored driving through the plains and step on the gas. High speed related crashes are not only high risk because of sustained injuries, but also because it will take an ambulance almost an hour and a half to reach you and deliver you to a hospital.
And for the most dangerous road of all, Alaska’s icy James Dalton Highway will fill a driver’s mind with images from the show “Ice Road Truckers”. It is easy to get distracted with fantastic scenery which can result in loss of control as the vehicle lurches through any of the multiple pot holes that punctuate this roadway. High winds make dangerous projectiles out of bits of gravel along the roadway that often results in a swerve and loss of control. Having a wreck in this part of Alaska is assuredly a death sentence. For one thing you are seriously isolated from civilization. For another thing, at night temperatures can drop to over fifty degrees below zero Celsius. If you happen to find yourself traveling to this area of North America, don’t even think about getting a rental car. They don’t allow their cars to be driven on this highway. That should be all the information a driver needs to warn them off this route.
And, now, to head back south to a beautiful but treacherous road in South Carolina, Highway 17. As one drives this lovely tree-lined highway, it’s hard to think about the risk of death. Don’t let the beauty fool you. The valleys and blind curves coupled with narrow lanes and wildlife that could dart out in front of your vehicle with no warning definitely cause this stretch of highway to rank right up there as one of the deadliest in the United States. Sections of this “highway” become a rural two-lane road that creates deadly conditions for drivers at risk of head-on collisions.
As for my husband and I, we don’t plan to be traveling any of these specific roadways. However, as we do plan to explore the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and the fabulous colors produced by the changing leaves, we will still have to be on top of our game as we traverse switchbacks and S-curves through mountain passes. As long as we pull over to the scenic look-out points to enjoy the views safely, I expect we should return home all in one piece!