Moody Day @ Black Canyon of the GunnisonOctober 11 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 63 °F
I’m not totally sure we did the right thing by going to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison today. Sure, the overcast skies and the often gusty winds fit the somber mood of the canyon. But the lack of sunlight dulled the scenery most of the time and hid details that were concealed in the crevices of the canyon walls.
On the other hand, we were just 30 miles or so from the Black Canyon. It would have been a shame not to at least do a quick look-see visit. We had just two days left before we’d be leaving the area. Since Mui prefers an easy day close-to-home before moving from one place to another, we’d either have to go today ... or not. So, we went.
Geologist Wallace Hansen said of this amazing place — “... no other North American canyon combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon.” What a perfect description. That said, give me the Grand Canyon anytime,
From various signage posted around the park, we gleaned that the canyon’s birth is in part due to the Gunnison Uplift. That movement raised the rocks some 2 million years ago. Then, the Gunnison River began cutting through the rock, assisted by floodwaters and abrasive sediments carried by those waters. Moisture entering joints and fractures helped with the weathering of the rock, causing it to break apart and tumble down the tall cliffs. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, as the Gunnison continues to carve a path through the rock, the Black Canyon measures some 2,300 feet deep at the Painted Wall ... deeper elsewhere. It ranges from 40 feet wide at the bottom near the Narrows and 1,100 feet wide rim to rim at the Chasm. Those are impressive numbers by any canyon’s standards.
We didn’t feel like driving two hours each way just to get to the North Rim of the canyon today. So, we focused on the South Rim, the entrance to which is just outside Montrose. The National Park Service ranger at the visitor center told us that the curvy, slow-speed South Rim Drive is 6 miles and that we could do it in 15 minutes if we didn’t stop. Yeah, right! We stopped at all but two of the overlooks and did the drive in 2 hours!
There weren’t that many visitors when we arrived at the park at 9:00a. But that changed pretty quickly. Nonetheless, we easily found a parking spot at each stop and encountered only a few people on the paths to the overlooks. Some of the paths were shorter than others. None were very long. But the steps all added up to a significant chunk of distance and gave us a chance to stretch our legs on our stop-and-go drive.
My favorite view of the Black Canyon was at the Painted Wall. Nearby signage described it as the highest cliff in Colorado ... some 2,300 feet high as I noted before. The dark, purple-lavender-pink hued rock (gneiss) was visibly crisscrossed with “rivers of rock” in lighter shades (pegmatite). These veins were formed when molten rock squeezed upward into the fissures . That was during Precambrian times ... during the earliest part of Earth’s history. Goes without saying that those rocks are incredibly old.
When we reached the end of the road at High Point, we parked the car and went for a short 1.5 mile in-out hike to add more steps to our day.
Named for a Montrose minister who was instrumental in the protection of the canyon, the Warner Point Nature Trail is described as moderate with stretches of steep sections. As we hiked, we traversed a forest of piñón pine and juniper. Through the trees, we glimpsed distant flat lands on one side and the Black Canyon on the other side.
Of course, we took our time, stopping at markers along the way to read the trail pamphlet we’d picked up at the trailhead. (I liked that there was a sign at the pamphlet box advising hikers that due to COVID-19 they should keep the booklet instead of returning it. A good safety measure.) It was also nice to see that all the hikers had masks that they put on when they encountered others on the trail. That was our modus operandi as well.
At the end of the trail, we arrived at a precipice ... Warner Point. From here we had expansive views of the mesas across the canyon, as well as the gorge itself. We took our time and made the most of the spot ... even if we did have to stand to do so. This scenic spot could have used a couple of benches for hikers to sit and enjoy the views.
By the time we got back to the trailhead 1½ hours later, the wind had picked up big time. Our stomachs were rumbling, but the picnic area near the parking lot did not appeal to us ... especially with no sunshine to keep us warm. We thought about taking the East Portal Road down to the bottom of the canyon. But we were deterred from doing so by the gusty winds.
Instead, we decided to have lunch at Dallas Creek, the day-use area at Ridgway State Park. Hah! By the time we got back to the park, the winds were not only gusting even stronger, but the windchill was prohibitively cold to sit at the picnic shelters. No al fresco dining today.
We spent most of the afternoon in the Cruiser ... reading and writing in my case; reading and napping in Mui’s case. Outside, the wind rattled the coach and rain briefly fell on the roof.
When the cloud deck parted and the sun showed itself around 4:30p, we headed out to use the wi-if at the Ridgway Library. If not for the sunny patch near the entrance, I think we would have skedaddled back home pretty quickly. As it turned out, we were able to take our time, enjoying the warmth of the sun as we researched alternate routes to our next destination. I apparently picked the best option, so our plans remain the same when we leave Ridgway SP on the 13th.Read more