Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, located in western Colorado,
contains 12 miles of the 48-mile-long Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, the
deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon. Big enough to be
overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time, Black Canyon of
the Gunnison National Park exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest
rocks, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the
Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical
wilderness of rock, water, and sky. The canyon's name owes itself to the
fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was established as a national monument on March
2, 1933, and was redesignated a national park on October 21, 1999.
Getting there ...
We had a very early flight at 5:20AM (so we needed to get up at 3:00AM) to Grand
Junction, CO. When we got to Denver at 9AM for our transfer, we were
notified our flight from Denver to Grand Junction was delayed (planned departure
at 9:45AM). The airplane did not arrive last night according to the flight
plan. When the plane arrived after 10:30AM, our flight was further delayed
due to crew scheduling (there were no flight attendants available...).
Finally we could board our plane at about noon with ~2.5 hours of delay.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has two entrances to the park: the
south rim entrance is located 15 miles (24 km) east of Montrose, while the north
rim entrance is 11 miles (18 km) south of Crawford and is closed in the winter.
We will stay one night each at the south rim and north rim to have sufficient
time to see both sides. After landed in Grand Junction, we first headed to the
north rim, the less visited and quieter side of the Black Canyon.
- Exclamation Point, North Rim
After checked in our room in Crawford
and a short break, we entered the park via the north rim entrance. We
took the North Vista Trail to the Exclamation Point, an easy 3-mile
round-trip hike. Our first glance of the deep Black Canyon of the
Gunnison was amazing, and a lookdown from the canyon rim always gave me some
- The Narrows View, North Rim
We decided to drive a little bit of North
Rim Drive Road to the first vista point, the Narrows View. This
overlook offers nice views along the canyon at one of its narrowest points
(only 40 ft (12m) wide at the river). The late afternoon side lighting
was perfect to show the layers of the canyon walls (much better than the
morning light on the next day).
We saw storming clouds had been forming and weather
forecast indicated a thunderstorm was imminent. We went back to Crawford
when it was getting darker. When we had a dinner at the restaurant just
across the street from our hotel room, it started to pour heavy rain and
lightning was striking crazily. The storm came quickly but was also gone
quickly; after 30 min when we finished our dinner, we could walk back to our
room without umbrella.
- Chasm View, North Rim
We went for a short hike at the Chasm View at
the North Rim Campground. It offers stunning views of the Painted Wall
and the Gunnison River deep inside canyon.
- Kneeling Camel View, North Rim
- Big Island & Island Peaks Views, North Rim
- Balanced Rock & the Narrows Views, North Rim
It's time to move on to the South Rim. There is no
bridge or road through the park or connecting the rims although it is only 1100
feet wide from rim to rim at the Chasm View. Driving from one
rim to the other involves driving around 80 miles and can take 2+ hours.
- South Rim Drive Road
After a nice Mexican lunch in Montrose, we
drove to the South Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There are
12 overlooks along the 7-mile South Rim Drive Road: from the east to
west, Tomichi Point,
Gunnison Point (visitor
center), Pulpit Rock
Fissures View, Rock Point, Devils Lookout,
Painted Wall View,
Cedar Point, Dragon
Point, Sunset View, High Point.
- Tomichi Point & Gunnison Point, South Rim
- Oak Flat Trail, South Rim
The Oak Flat Loop Trail offers variety to
the hiker who would like to explore below the rim without taking on the
challenge of hiking to the river. Along the 2-mile strenuous trail,
you hike through forests of oak, aspen, and Douglas fir trees and through
the clearings you will have great views of the far canyon wall.
- Pulpit Rock Overlook, South Rim
It's a short walk from the parking to
the Pulpit Rock Overlook. It provides a sweeping view of the canyon clearly
different slopes of the south wall (63 degrees) vs. the north wall (93
degrees) called solar shaping.
- Cross Fissures & Chasm Views, South Rim
- Painted Wall View, South Rim
The Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in
Colorado at 2,250 feet. It is probably one of the most famous and
iconic geological features in the park. Veins of pink pegmatite run
horizontally through the canyon walls of dark blue-black gneiss.
After visiting the Painted Wall View at about 4PM, we
went back to Montrose to check in our hotel and took a break, and went to a
nearby steakhouse to have an early nice dinner (prime rib and special seafood
- Cedar Point, South Rim
We went back to the South Rim at about 7:30PM
and walked to the Cedar Point to wait for sunset. It's a perfect
location to see sun set behind the Painted Wall.
Painted Wall View & Gunnison Point, South Rim
We went back to the Painted
Wall View and Gunnison Point in the morning to see how they look under the
different direction of the sunlight.
- East Portal
East Portal is within the boundary of Curecanti National
Recreation Area, but accessible from the South Rim of Black Canyon National
Park. The East Portal Road is the easiest way to get down to the
Gunnison River, but windy and steep. In a few places, the road is very steep
with a 16% grade (Vehicles over 22 feet are prohibited on the East Portal
Road). The East Portal Road carried the crews and equipment that built
the Gunnison Tunnel from 1905 to 1909, a visionary project to construct a
tunnel that would transfer a portion of the Gunnison River water to the
fields of the Uncompahgre Valley to the west. Although not much
remains of the town, visitors can still experience the trepidation of
winding down the canyon.
We went back to Montrose to have a brunch at a popular
local restaurant. After 2 days of exploration of the majestic Black Canyon
of the Gunnison, we were ready to move on to our next destination,
Mesa Verde National Park.
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