The ride from Mesa Verde to our next stop, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, brought us through the mountains and right past Telluride Resort. Now, those are some serious mountains! We gave the RVs quite a workout getting up and down those mountain passes. In addition to wonderful winter skiing, we’ve heard there is a great music festival held here in the fall. We can see why, its a spectacular place.
We chose Centennial RV Park in Montrose, CO as our next stop to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park which is located nearby. After three nights camping “off-grid” (no electric, water, sewer hook-ups) we needed a place with full hook-ups and this place offered all that. Not a bad spot with a great view.
This park was established on October 21, 1999 and covers 30,750 acres in western Colorado. It protects 14 miles of a 53-mile-long gorge. Black Canyon earned its name because it is so deep (2,772 feet at Warner Point), sheer and narrow that very little sunlight penetrates to the Gunnison River 2,000 feet below. The river’s head waters, high in the Rocky Mountains, slammed through this canyon at 12,000 cubic feet per second with 2.75-million-horsepower force prior to the dams being constructed. And, in just 48 miles, this river losses more elevation than the entire 1,500 mile Mississippi River does while flowing from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. On average, “the Gunny” as it is called locally, drops 96’ per mile and in one two-mile stretch it drops 480 feet. That elevation loss contributes to the speed and force this river brings into the canyon. In fact, you can hear the river’s roaring white water from the rim 2,000’ above!
These steep canyon walls make great nesting spots for the resident birds such as Golden and Bald Eagles, Raptors, Great Horned Owls, Stellar’s Jay and American Dippers and the migratory birds such as Prairie and Peregrine falcons, Mountain bluebirds, White-throated swifts and Canyon wrens.
We were treated to many of these species while driving the seven-mile South Rim Drive and stopping at many of the vistas along the way such as Tomichi Point (more on this spot later) Pulpit Rock, the Narrows (where the river drops 480’ in elevation in 2 miles), Cross Fissures, Rock Point, Devil’s Lookout, the Chasm where you are only 330 yards away from the North Rim (but there is no bridge to get there) and finally Painted Wall where Colorado’s tallest cliff of 2,250’ is visible.
We also took some short hikes on the many trails available like Rim Rock Trail and Cedar Point Trail. These are basic, relatively easy hikes. Of course, we wanted something a bit more intense for the next day so we checked in at the Ranger Station to get some ideas. We thought seeing the river from the canyon floor would be cool so we asked for a challenging hike to get us there. The Tomichi Route was recommended so we added it to our list of things to do the next day.
First thing in the morning we took the East Portal Road winding down switchback after switchback descending 16% grades down to the Gunnison River and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Vehicles over 22’ long are prohibited here as are trailers so it was fortunate that we had the Jeep. After the record snowfall this past winter, the river was running at record levels as well. It was so powerfully rushing through that canyon, you could feel it and hear it!
Here we also came across the 5.8 mile long Gunnison Tunnel, a water diversion tunnel built during a four year project and dedicated by President Taft in 1909, that provides irrigation for the nearby Uncompahgre Valley. At the end of East Portal Road we could see the Crystal Dam, although, we could no longer hike right to it. Since 9-11-2001 its been fenced off to protect it from any terrorist-inspired activities.
Next on the days agenda was the challenging hike we mentioned which started at Tomichi Point (remember I said I’d tell you more about this later…). Well, all four of us are in pretty good shape and we’ve all done a fair amount of hiking. We thought we could handle this 5 – 6 hour hike without too much trouble the ranger said it would be 1.5 hours down and 4.5 hours back up) and were excited about reaching the canyon floor to get a new perspective on this place. Well, our view of challenging is not quite the same as that of the ranger we spoke with. The beginning of the descent was so steep we were actually climbing down the loose-scrabble rock on all fours. Not a good sign. I’m not sure we even got a quarter-mile into this thing before Arthur and I were loosing site of our wives who were further up the slope. Arthur and I began to question if this was “safe for the ladies”. Of course, no problem for us, we had this no problem. But, it might be a bit much for our wives, right. We hollered up to them to see how they were feeling about the trail choice we’d made. Still ok, lets continue. Just a bit further down, things seemed to be getting even more difficult and its still the beginning. Checked in with the ladies again to learn that maybe this was too much for them (not, of course, for us). Being the gentlemen that we are, Arthur and I reluctantly acquiesced. We knew we could have done it but it would just not be right for us to go on without our wives (right?). So, without another instants thought, we agreed to cancel this hike and began our scramble back to the rim. Better safe than sorry!
We selected a new (much less dangerous) hike and headed out to do that. Had fun, saw great views of the canyon and the river and still made it back to the campsites for happy hour. Another successful visit.