Monday, June 30, 2014

Jun 30 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Viewpoints! So many viewpoints.

How many ways can you photograph a deep canyon? A lot, it turns out.

Today we backtracked west a bit and headed to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

A bit of geology first. This area is made of up very hard rock that was uplifted from below by lava. Then some volcanoes coated the uplift and the valleys around it with soft lava. The now named Gunnison River meandered over this flat plain and easy cut its way though the soft lava. Once it reached the hard rock below the river was trapped and just continued to slowly grind its way down. Slowly is the key word as they figure the river is deepening the canyon by a hair’s width every year or about an inch a century.

Because the rock is so hard it doesn’t crumble as it erodes so the walls of the canyon never collapsed to give the wide V shape of most canyons. Instead you get sheer 1700 to 2300 foot cliffs not much wider than the river below.

It is called the Black Canyon because it is so deep and narrow, the sun only gets to the bottom when it is directly overhead.

We first went to the visitor’s center and as usual watched the movie.

There is not much hiking in this park. Mostly it is just short trails from the road to a view out on a point. There is one trail down into the canyon but I heard a couple of young guys talking to the rangers about it. The younger ranger had never been down. The older ranger said it had been 40 years since he had been down. It must be one tough trail.

Then we started with the viewpoints. The first was right at the visitor’s center. Jennie outdid herself today. She made it out to most of the views even though in most cases it was straight down to the river.



Most of the time you had to struggle to see the river as it is green and so far down.



We headed out on the South Rim Road. We stopped at every viewpoint except one (near the end of the day).


Even though this is going to get repetitive, since we walked out to each of them I am going to post at least one picture from each. This blog is as much a record for us as it is to show the pictures to you.

Pulpit Rock.


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Notice that here one of the sides has the normal V shape. When the river runs east west, the south slope does not get dried out as much by the sun so that snow and ice can accumulate in the rocks. The freeze thaw cycle does break down those rocks and they fall into the river.



Cross Fissures View. I am not sure what that means although there were lots of walls and spires.


Jennie wasn’t hiding from the view, she just likes to look at the rocks.





Rock Point. No river to see here.


Looking over at the next viewpoint. It is hard to see the edge of the point with the canyon wall behind it but it was about 1700 feet straight down.



Devil’s Lookout. The trail sometimes was right on the edge.






Straight down.


The trail around the previous viewpoint.



Chasm View.





The Painted Wall. At 2300 feet it is the highest cliff in Colorado. Twice as tall as the Empire State Building, which seems to be the classic comparison object.



We skipped Cedar Point and went to Dragon Point.


By now, with the heat, no wind and elevation (8100 feet) even 100 yards seemed a long way.




We think it is called Dragon Point because when the sun it just right there is a vein of the whiter rock that looks like a fiery waterfall named Dragon’s Fire.


The final stop was called Sunset View.


Jennie right up against the railing.


You can see the river wiggle its way far off into the distance. I actually liked this view the best. So much to look at.


There was a panel about the view and how it is affected by smog and air pollution. It said that you had a good day if you could see the two mesas in the distance. The one on the right is 35 miles away. The one on the left is 60 miles away. A good day.


There was one more viewpoint at the end of the road but the trail to it was just too long for this late in the day. We turned around for the 1 1/2 hour drive back to the RV.

Heading down from the park we could see the mountains around Ouray off to the south.


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