After leaving Crested Butte and Gunnison, our next stop was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The National Park is a little off the beaten path being about 25 miles from Montrose and 60 miles from Gunnison off Route 50. I had read a couple of blog posts about the park and felt we should check it out while passing by. What a pleasant surprise and place of spectacular views.
The park has a North Rim and South Rim. From Route 50, the North Rim is quite a drive on back roads. We opted for the closer South Rim. While driving along Route 50 and then up 5 miles to the top of a green mesa to the park entrance, we had no glimpses of what awaits us.
The area looks a lot like Mesa Verde National Park until we got to the first turn out. Then, we’re hit with an unbelievable view. Holy quacamole! It’s just stunning. Here’s this huge deep canyon cleaved into hard ingenious rock with millions of craggy outcroppings, cracks, and fissures. It’s unlike any canyon I’ve been to and I’ve been to some of the great ones like the Grand Canyon, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wiamea Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, and Palo Duro Canyon.
“How the heck did this get here?” is the question that begins rattling in my head. This isn’t soft sandstone that’s been eroded by lots of water. Its hard precambrian rock that looks like it was uplifted and then cleaved. That’s exactly what I found out from the ranger at the Visitor Center. The quick explanation is volcanic eruptions, lava flows, tectonic plates moving, shifts, and the erosion exposed this rock and made the canyon.
It’s steep and deep – over 2,000 ft from rim to the bottom where flows the Gunnison River. And the rim is high up at 8,400 ft and the air is dry and thin.
The main way to see the canyon is from a scenic drive on the South Rim. There’s several turn outs that via a short walk give us the opportunity to get up close to the edge. It becomes a little of a problem for both me and my son who have a fear of heights (acrophobia). Many of the overlooks jut out from the canyon wall and addition to a distant canyon vista they give a view straight down – thousands of feet down. I see the river that knifes through the canyon and hear its faint roar.
Just getting close to the edge cause a fluttering in my bowels, an increase in heart rate, and a minor wave of panic. The thin air doesn’t help. My son approaches each over look with extreme caution and a “holy shit” mumble. He hangs back from the edges and I have to coax him out for each picture. After exploring a few of the overlooks he just asks me to report back what I saw.
It was all spectacular. We had a fantastic sunny day to enjoy the park. We spent about 3 hours on the scenic drive and saw only a few people along the way. There are also some short hikes that can also be done. There is a small Visitor Center and the park appears very well maintained. Here is a couple of pictures to show what it is like.
We camped at the National Park campground on the South Rim. We had no reservation and had no problem getting a site with electricity. It’s $18 per night for these and $12 for a tent site. There are no bath rooms or showers (only vault toilets), water spigots (no water hook ups) and no dump station. The campsites are small and can’t accommodate large motorhomes or trailers. Bear and mountain lions frequent the area and there are precaution signs at each camp site. We had no sitings or run in’s with these critters but some mule deer did visit us right after dinner. We had a large female and some young deer graze thru our campsite seeming oblivious to our presence. It was a nice surprise to the end of another fine day.
Visiting the Black Canyon was another great stop. I highly recommend it if you’re passing through the area