Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

When we arrived in Montrose our friend Melinda offered to take us to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and play tour guide.  Ominous name for a National Park but we were eager to go nonetheless. The name “Gunnison” refers to the Gunnison River that has shaped this magnificent canyon that stretches for 53 miles through western Colorado.

To say the Black Canyon is dramatic is a gross understatement.  This plunging gorge falls to an impressive depth of 2,700 feet and is the work of natural forces demonstrating their might over millions of years.  The canyon was called “black” because it is so deep, sheer, and narrow that very little sunlight permeates the floor.  Shadows create more darkness and give the walls a menacing look.  The first written record of the canyon in the late 1870’s declared it “impenetrable.”  

Look closely in the bottom of the picture
and you can see the Gunnison River.
Two brave explorers by the names of Abraham Lincoln Fellows and William Torrence were the first to brave the canyons depth and the rivers furry.  These early explorers were seeking to map the river and determine if water could be diverted to the nearby arid and desolate Uncompahgre Valley for irrigation.  In 1901, these daredevils braved the river on rubber mattresses; after 33 miles and 9 days they determined an irrigation tunnel was feasible.  And so hundreds of hearty laborers from 1905 to 1909 drove a tunnel 11 feet x 12 feet six miles through the cliffs of the Black Canyon and provided the necessary water for the valley.

Congress designated the Black Canyon a national monument in 1933 but that was later changed to National Park status in 1999.  The park is surrounded by other federal lands that ensure protection for the canyon and adjacent lands.  The lands below the rim carry the designation of National Wilderness which means the forever protection will keep the area truly wild with no roads, vehicles, mechanized equipment, or development of any kind. 

Standing on the rim and looking into the canyon is foreboding.  But looking up from the canyon floor is awe-inspiring and humbling.  We were glad to have such a good tour guide and spend time with Melinda in a truly magnificent place.

As Melinda and Betsy hiked along the East Portal road with Spirit, I decided to "wet my line" in the clear, cold Gunnison River.
Melinda and Betsy
The mighty Gunnison River running through the canyon.
At 2,300 feet, the Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado - almost twice the height of the Empire State Building.  The patterns on the rock were created by molten rock that was squeezed into the cracks and fissures of existing rock and then cooled and hardened.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos! I love the Red Rocks of Utah - but now the Black Rocks are on my list of places to visit. I lived in Colorado for a number of years - but never visited here. Guess I was too busy skiing. :)


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