We spent all of Saturday and half of Sunday exploring The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s a fairly small National Park and everything was close. We decided that we’d drive the 7 mile South Rim Road – which has numerous overlooks, most of which you have to walk out to, in the morning then return to the campground for lunch and then drive out East Portal Road to see the canyon from the bottom.
We got a later start and by the time we stopped at the first overlook and checked out the visitor center, it was already getting close to lunch time! One thing Dad and I noticed was that the morning/daytime sun was quite harsh and taking pictures of the canyon was difficult, we both wanted to come back and see the canyon in the evening when the sun was lower in the sky and the light was softer. We hung around for a ranger program at one of the overlooks – it was all about the 1st people whole explored the canyon; they floated down the river on a rubber air mattress! The Gunnison River through the canyon is harsh – it’s full of rocks and strong currents, it’s not a good place to go rafting or kayaking.
After lunch we drove out the East Portal Road which went down to the river. They have set up several dams so they can control the amount of water that goes through the canyon and use the water for irrigation in nearby Montrose, so there was portion of the river that was calm and kayak-able. Dad and I wanted to float down it, however we couldn’t find a good spot to put the kayaks in – the banks were steep and rocky and while we were right next to the river, it was impossible to get down to it. We found a good place to take the boats out, but we couldn’t get them in upriver. So, we decided to drive back up to the top and finish the road.
We checked out a couple overlooks that we hadn’t seen yet, including the last one – High Point (which incidentally isn’t the “highest” point on the mesa, just “a” high point! This overlook had a nature trail so Dad and I hiked the ¾ miles to another, totally different viewpoint. On the way we had views of the valley below, Montrose, and the San Juan Mountains to the southwest. When we got to the view point we could see most of the park – the road, the canyon edge and our car!
If we were going to get out to see the sunset and enjoy the evening light on the canyon we had to get back and get dinner! After dinner we headed out again, stopping at some overlooks that we hadn’t stopped at yet. The light was better, especially on the eastern facing overlooks. We went back to “Sunset View” thinking that would be the best place to view the sunset but the haze had rolled in and the canyon looked like the Blue Ridge Mountains back east. Grrr… So we moved up the road a bit to an overlook we hadn’t been too. When we got there we met a guy who’d ridden up on his motorcycle. We got to chatting with him and he gave us some advice on where else to go in Colorado.
Sunday morning Dad and I hiked The Oak Flat Trail – it’s not really flat, in fact it’s only 2 miles long but it loses (and re-gains) about 300 feet of elevation! It’s a pretty good hill! We started at the campground and walked the Rim Rock trail (that we’d been on Friday night) around to the visitor center and then got the Oak Flat trail and hiked it around until we got to the Uplands Trail that took us back to the campground. It was about 3.5 miles total.
The Oak Flat Trail was neat – it started at the rim of the canyon and then we descended through an aspen and fir and taller pinyon trees forest to some views of the canyon. Then we headed back up. I think it was probably the only place on the mesa that had tall trees!
The Uplands trail was all on the top of the mesa and was all low growing pinyon trees and sagebrush and grass. It was hot and open. Not my favorite place to walk!
After the walk it was time to head out to Ridgeway State Park near Ouray. Too see more pictures of see my album on Google+: Black Canyon of the Gunnison