Deciding where to go after Mazatlan was a difficult decision. There was the choice of going further south to the nicer beaches and prettier blue ocean or inland where it’s chillier and has the high and dry climate that I dislike so much. In the end, we both wanted to experience the new Mazatlan-Durango highway that opened last fall.
And a beautiful highway it is. The Mexican people that I talked to are so proud of this magnificent accomplishment and justifiably so.
The new highway, 40D, is a toll road and takes about 2 1/2 hours for the drive between Mazatlan and Durango. Highway numbers in Mexico that have a “D” after them are always toll. The older toll free highway, 40, is called the Devils Backbone due to being very curvy and having steep drop offs with no guard rails in places. That route takes 6 hours. This new highway makes the drive from the Gulf of Mexico to Mazatlan, with it’s deep water port, possible in 12 hours.
Highway 40D crosses the western Sierra Madre mountains. From the start of the highway in Villa Union, just south of Mazatlan, to the highest point that I noticed on the GPS, the elevation climbed to 8840 feet (2694m).
It was an easy and subtle climb for gaining that much elevation in a short distance. The road is fairly straight the entire way and has only gentle curves. If you have ever driven the major highways in Switzerland you would have noticed that the Swiss just plow right through the mountains with tunnel after tunnel and that is the same approach the Mexican engineers and builders took.
All are well lit. I do wonder if this highway is receiving the amount of traffic and resulting toll revenue that the government anticipated. There were very few cars and trucks on the highway the day we drove it.
While the many tunnels are obvious, what is not noticed so much are the 115 bridges because only two of them have the cables like this one.
The Puente Baluarte bridge is now the worlds’ tallest cable stayed bridge and the highest bridge in North America. Prior to the bridge opening October 2013, the tallest cable stayed bridge in the world was the Millau Viaduct in France. We saw the Millau Viaduct, which crosses an entire valley, in 2011 and I have to say it is mind boggling impressive. You can view pictures of it on Google or Bing Images.
Another fascinating facet of this highway are the sheer number of cuts that were made through rock hills. Once we crested the highest part of the mountains and started the descent, there was one after another with varying rock colors.
The way the lanes are marked looks confusing but is not once you know what you are looking at. The red line means that side is descending and there will be a runaway truck ramp further down. The wide shoulder is for people to move over so that others can pass. I like this type of road much better than the narrow 4 lane highways with no shoulders that are in Mexico.
The truck has moved over so that we can pass. Yellow no-passing stripes mean nothing in Mexico but everyone readily straddles half off the lane so that others can safely pass. I lived in south Texas in the 70’s and people followed the same system on two lane roads.
There’s no one behind this truck but you can see he drives well to the side of the road. In my opinion, drivers are more predictable in Mexico and so in a sense it is easier than driving in the U.S. with all the crazies. One thing I have to mention is that in all the months we/I have driven in Mexico, not one person has ever flipped me the bird, made an angry gesture, honked, or in any way expressed road rage. The Mexican drivers for the most part are very patient drivers and will allow you to change lanes in heavy traffic.
The final toll booth before Durango.
If you drive this highway: There are no gas stations between Villa Union and Durango (about 160 miles). There are a few villages off in the distance and they may have a station although I never saw a sign. Most people driving directly to Laredo from Durango will stay straight on the highway to Torreon so I don’t know where the next gas station would be on that route. We by-passed Durango and dipped south again across the Tropic of Cancer and saw only one not easy-to-access gas station in the Durango area. Just so you know……
This will be our preferred route to take in the future if traveling from Colorado to the Pacific Coast. The west coast highway passes through several cities, there is still a lot of construction as the highway is being improved upon, and is generally much slower going. However, we are uniquely geographically located in Colorado where the mileage is just a 52 mile difference between the routes: Colorado Springs to Mazatlan via Nogales is 1579 miles and via Laredo, Texas and the new highway is 1631 miles. It would be shorter to go through El Paso, Texas and Juarez, MX but that way is not considered as safe as the other routes.