Thursday, September 10, 2015

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (South Rim), 9/09/2015

Spectacular is the only word that comes to mind to describe the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We planned a one-week stay in Montrose, CO, to see this National Park (and we'll see other things here as well). 

Today we traveled on Rte 50 east to Rte 347 North to the South Rim of the canyon (14 miles from our campground, the Montrose KOA). 

Our first stop, as always, was the Visitor Center. We watched a 20-minute video (great summation of the geology and history of man's efforts to "tame" the wild river and gorge) and checked out the exhibits. Park rangers are available to provide advice on exploring the park and there is a nice park gift shop, too. 

Our first day here, we decided to take the Scenic Drive to the overlooks on the South Rim. The trails to the overlooks add up to about 2 miles of hiking which was about what we wanted to do at this elevation (8,000'). The other advantage for us is that dogs (leashed, of course) are permitted on the rim trails (but not the wilderness or canyon trails). 

From the Visitor Center, there is a trail that leads to the Gunnison Point Overlook. Precambrian gniess and schist, formed 1.7 billion years ago (some of the oldest in North America), make up the majority of the cliff walls. 

Pulpit Rock. The Gunnison River (a tributary of the Colorado River) drops an average of 34' per mile through the entire 48-mile canyon (12 miles of the canyon are in the National Park where the drop is 95' per mile). The raging river cut through the hard rock over millions of years to create the gorge. Even expert, very experienced, kayakers have lost their lives to the river in the park. 

Cross Fissure Views. Check out the rock formations in this section of the canyon. 

Rock Point. The bands of light-colored rock in the dark rock of the Black Canyon are caused by molten rock that squeezed upward into fissures over a billion years ago. They can be see in many cliffs along the gorge. 

Devils Lookout. The gorge was named Black Canyon because there are areas where light does not penetrate all the way down to the river. Some parts get only 33 minutes of sunlight per day. 

Chasm View. The canyon depth ranges from 2,700' to 1,750' at the Narrows, a short distance upstream where the river is the most dangerous for those attempting to kayak or run the rapids on rafts. Mule deer, elk and bear can be found here, but we only saw chipmunks!

Painted Wall View. The cliff here is 2,300' and riddled with pegmatite dikes (molten rock in fractures of existing rock). If the Empire State Building were placed at the bottom of the canyon here, it would reach only halfway up the cliff wall. We found this to be the most dramatic and beautiful view we have seen thus far.

Cedar Point. Found along the canyon rims are dense thickets of woody shrubs in the oak-bush community. A bit of early autumn can be seen along the trail to the overlook here. Also the West Elk Mountains can be seen in the distance. 

Here is a view of the canyon from the overlook here. Pinyon-Juniper forests are at the western end and along the north wind. The trees can survive high winds and drought. The last photo was taken looking straight down to the Gunnison River. 

Dragon Point. Each overlook provides a different perspective on the canyon. Ute Indians avoided the canyon out of superstition and the dangerous conditions along the rim and in the river. 

Sunset View. We will come back to this overlook to catch a sunset before we leave Montrose. 

High Point. This is the final stop on the scenic drive and the views are as spectacular as the first overlook!

After a wonderful day here on the South Rim, we plan to explore the North Rim as well the area accessed via the East Portal Road. Admission to the park is $15/vehicle for 7 days. Our senior pass gets us in for free. Additional fees are charged for backcountry passes and camping.  


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