I was looking forward to visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park—not because I knew what to expect, but because I really didn’t have a clue.
- Canyon? Yep, got that!
- Black? Must be...
- A river runs through it? Probably the Gunnison River.
Apparently a lot of other people know about as much as I do about it. It only had a little over 200,000 visitors in 2015. (For comparison, the Grand Canyon had 5.5 million; Yellowstone had over 4 million; even Death Valley had over a million!)
Tomichi Point is the first viewpoint after you head into the park. Suddenly I understood what this place was all about! Not only is it a big black canyon with a river at the bottom, it’s different than any other canyon I’ve ever seen. The cliff walls are jagged and sheer; the gorge is deep and narrow; and even in the sunshine, it’s dark in color and emotion.
We stopped at (most) of the viewpoints, although some of them were a bit of a trek to get to the rim where the view was. Some of the overlook signs even showed yardage. George still wasn’t feeling quite up to par (I know this because he’s not interested in golf yet) so at a few of the stops, I took a walk with both cameras.
First stop was Gunnison Point, where there were stairs leading to a section of lighter colored rock called a pegmatite dike, a softer rock that’s .... The white band... across the canyon used to be connected to the overlook one. Squint and you can see the river below. Listen and you can hear it.
At Pulpit Point there are picnic tables...and a viewpoint. It’s 134 yards to the overlook out on another chunk of rock handily available for tourists. It’s easier to see the river from here.
Chasm View is near the road—or perhaps the road is near Chasm View—and the river is easy to see. This is where the cliffs are steepest. These signs are at the start of each trail to the rim.
Painted Wall isn’t quite so close, but not so far either—it’s 200 yards that-a-way. The sign says that at 2,300’, it’s the highest cliff in Colorado. The lighter lines on the cliff were created when molten rock squeezed into fractures in the existing rock. (I’m not sure I ever knew that could happen, so I guess I don’t have to feel bad about forgetting it.)
We skipped Cedar Point and drove on to Dragon Point, which is just a short 100 yards. George stayed in the truck again so I was chief photographer. I thought there was more painted wall at this viewpoint than at the one with the official name. This is some wicked canyon!
By the time we made it back to the road to East Portal, it was getting too late to drive down to the river. Hairpin curves on a 16% grade to the river--no vehicles greater than 22' allowed. Since the water access is at the bottom of the cnayon, it wasn't in the sun anyway, so I let George convince me it was too dark. I wish we'd gone...looking up from the bottom would have been really cool.
Click for more pictures: Black Canyon of the Gunnison Natl Park