Felschurch, you're correct that the road from Mancos to Dolores is paved...I had written in that previous post that it wasn't, but I don't know what I was thinking. Maybe the road had been chip sealed and I was thinking it was gravel, I dunno! However, I was just by there and saw a sign that there was to be construction and to expect delays...I didn't catch the dates but it was to start after Labor Day. In addition, that road is much more winding, so although it cuts off a few miles, I don't think it saves much time.
Another note from my most recent trip: I used to stop at the gas station at Hesperus for a pit stop and a bottle of water or a snack. However, I now notice that their restrooms are out of service, replaced by rather grimy looking portapotties at the side of the building. The gas station just off the highway at Mancos makes a better stop at this time, and there's a nice station at Rico, too. (They ask for anyone stopping to use their restroom to please make a purchase, and I think that's quite reasonable.)
I like the Durango>Mancos>Cortez>Dolores>Telluride route with an overnight stay in Telluride or Ouray. With an overnight stay in either place, you easily have time to make the detour to Montrose to see the Black Canyon.
I like the clockwise route best because I love the views from Rico to Lizard Head Pass and on to Telluride in that direction. (If you go counterclockwise, make sure to stop and look around whenever you can!) I also like the views between Telluride and Ridgway going that direction better, as you get a great view of the Cimarron Range to the east as you drop down from Dallas Divide on in to Ridgway. If you go the other way, those views are behind you. The views between Ouray and Durango are awesome in either direction and you will want to stop at overlooks whichever way you choose.
Those who've read my posts on this subject know I'm a big chicken and don't drive between Ouray and Durango any more in either direction (yes, I used to, but I've developed an unfortunate, irrational phobia as I've gotten older, darn it), so I can sympathize with the OP and have to have a designated driver. As a white knuckle passenger, actually prefer the counterclockwise route. The section immediately south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge is mostly flat and relatively short. After that section, you're mostly on the "inside" the rest of the way. And of course, realize that only some sections have the combination of drop-offs, very narrow shoulder, and no guard rail, whichever direction you choose. This is a two lane state highway, not a jeep trail. There's really no reason to fear it. Respect it, yes. But most of the people who make the drive come back to report that it wasn't that big a deal.
For those considering the drive, as a driver or passenger, here are my thoughts when I am considering riding with someone on the Million Dollar Highway: the designated driver should be sober, of course, not tired or in a huge hurry, and willing to follow posted speeds--maybe slower in snow or heavy rain-- and keep their hands on the wheel and their attention on the road especially in the sections with dropoffs, stopping when safe to do so to look at the scenery. The driver shouldn't be someone who "talks" with his/her hands. The driver also shouldn't be someone who gets irritated when following someone else. A degree of patience is necessary, as there will be slow drivers and the chances to pass are limited. The driver doesn't have to love the idea of no guardrails and steep drop-offs, but shouldn't have a debilitating fear of heights. As a driving test, think about this: Can the driver stay in his lane on a highway without wandering into the warning rumble strips along the edge or center? (or does he/she tend to weave?) How often does the driver bump into a curb or median when making a turn?
Have fun! You're going to love the drive and the scenery! As far as where to stay, both Ouray and Telluride are lovely. Telluride is more upscale with more lodging choices and restaurants. Ouray is smaller,usually a little more reasonably priced lodging (but not always...sometimes there are good deals in Telluride, too) with a different "vibe" or feel than Telluride...hard to explain...maybe a little more "down home." And Ouray has the hot springs, if that interests you. There's much to like about both! Ridgway is a good choice, too. There are some good restaurants these days and a few places to stay.