Our first stop, as always, was at the Elk River Visitor Center where exhibits and a small park gift shop can be found. Fishing trout and kokamee salmon is the primary recreational activity along with all water sports (power and sail boating, swimming, windsurfing, paddle boarding, etc.) Hiking, birding, camping, hunting (per Colorado regulations) and scenic drives are other activities at Curecanti. Elk herds, bear, golden eagles (photo below), Gunnison-sage grouse (also shown below), and other wildlife can be found here.
The semi-arid region along the Gunnison River (between Gunnison and Montrose, CO) was transformed to this recreational area when the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit dams (part of the Bureau of Reclamation's Upper River Storage Project) were built creating three reservoirs. The three dams and reservoirs (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal) provide irrigation and hydroelectric power to many western states.
The visitor center is located near the shores of the Blue Mesa Reservoir (a 940,800-acre lake with a 96-mile shoreline) so we drove to the campground area to get a closer look.
A marina and restaurant (that overlooks it) are also located at Elk Creek.
We drove west on Rte 50 from the Visitor Center along the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Various trailheads can be found at designated points along the way. The center photo is of the Dillon Pinnacles.
We continued on Rte 50 West to Lake Fork where we turned left to pick up Rte 92. Our first stop was the Blue Mesa Dam Overlook.
Continuing on Rte 92, we came to the Pioneer Point Overlook. This is also the location of the Curecanti Creek Trail. There are two overlook areas at this stop and both provide amazing views of the gorge and Morrow Point Reservoir (extends upstream 12 miles).
The center photo shows the Curecanti Needle (center) that towers 700' over Morrow Point. It was the first emblem for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1884.
We retraced our way back to travel west on Rte 50 to the Cimarron Visitor Center (currently closed). Nearby is the Morrow Point Dam (486' tall). Of the three dams, this one produces the most electricity. We took the pedestrian bridge to the other side of Mesa Creek to hike the 1.5 miles trail. It was awesome!
Sadie found a new friend along the trail. The couple was from North Carolina and we enjoying chatting with them for a bit.
Normally displayed here at Cimarron is Engine 278, built in 1882 for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad to haul trains up and down the Black Canyon. It is currently undergoing restoration after being displayed for decades. It will be returned to this site once that work is complete.
We had a great day exploring the beautiful Curecanti National Recreation Area. Mesa Creek Trail is one of our favorite hiking experiences ever! There is no admission fee to the area, but permits must be purchased for various activities and camping. All boats must be free of mussels and are inspected by Park Rangers before they are permitted in any of the reservoirs.
If you come to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison, be sure to allow some time to visit this area, too. Check out their website for additional information.