Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fall Road Trip 2011 - Part III - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO
Santa Clara, CA - The Black Canyon of the Gunnision National Park has been on my list of parks to visit for some time. It bugged me that it was only about 5 hours from our place in Lafayette, CO and we never ended up going. Every time we drove by Blue Mesa Reservoir on our way to the ice climbing festival in Ouray, I'd remember it and ask, "Why haven't we been there yet?" Of course it was usually closed for the season, but still. I'm glad we got a chance to see it on this trip. It is well worth the visit, especially in the Fall.

We started our tour on the less developed North Rim.  The north side was very quite, had dirt roads, and small, closed ranger station with trail and climbing information on the outside.  We decided to take a short three mile out and back hike on the North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point.  I liked the name and frankly, it sounded exciting.  Turns out, Exclamation Point actually has some of the best inner canyon views in the park, which is trickier to see than you would think.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is so named because the walls are so steep and the canyon is so deep that the sun has a very difficult time making it to the bottom or even hitting the walls, making it look quite dark or even black most of the time.  Here are a few stats I found interesting:  With an average drop of 34 ft per mile the Gunnison River's path through the canyon is the 5th steepest in North America.  At Chasm View the canyon drops 240 ft in a mile.  Painted Wall on the north side of the canyon is 2250 ft high making it the highest sheer cliff in Colorado (El Cap in Yosemite is about 3000 ft).  The deepest section of the canyon is 2722 ft at Warner Point.

Hiking the North Vista Trail, Black Canyon on the Gunnison National Park

Panoramic View from Exclamation Point, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO
Fall Colors on the North Vista Trail
Although the canyon is only 1100 ft from rim to rim at Chasm View, it's easily a two and a half hour drive around if you go via Blue Mesa like we did and 2 hours, 15 minutes if you go through Delta.  Of course due to fall colors, baby poop, and someone we won't mention with a photo obsession, it took us much, much longer.  In any case we made it to the south rim, checked out the visitor's center and a few view points and set up camp in time for sunset.  We watched the sun go down at Sunset View while devouring a damn fine pot of chili mac.

View from Tomichi Point, South Rim, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO
Keira on the North Rim / Camping on the South Rim / Balanced Rock View
Sunset View at Sunset, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO.  This shot, by the way, is my first attempt at HDR photography.  I'm still not sure how I feel about HDR, but it's the only way I could get this image.
We had planned to spend the next morning checking out more of the south rim and possibly dropping down into the canyon, but we woke up to rain and a strong desire for a hot breakfast prepared by someone else, so we packed out camp and headed out.

Stay tuned for more.  Next up, Telluride.

Check out the earlier posts from this trip:

Fall Road Trip 2011 - California to Colorado
Fall Road Trip 2011 - Part II - Misc. Colorado Including Grand Mesa

There are 27 photos in the slideshow.  Click below for the link

Fall Road Trip 2011 - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park