BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NP
Rocky Mountain National Park gave us a perfect start to the west coast, but we still had the feeling we were going to return back to our Summit County Apartment. Final breaking past Denver lines, we had two stops to make before reaching Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Our first stop was on a bit of a whim. Garden of the Gods is heavily advertised on the way towards Colorado Springs, and it was an 'if we had time' stop on our list. Since we were right there, we pulled off I-25 and toured this famous park. For a city park, it was top notch. The experience, though, was a bit much. Slammed with people, this “voted best park in America” was filled to the brim with the typical day tourists from all over, and multiple school groups. We were able to find a spot to park and walked the main vain of the central garden. Looking past the people, the park was beautiful. Jutting rust colored rocks sprang out of nowhere in the middle of the bright green and sage desert scrub. Climbers were high above the masses, people from all backgrounds were gaping up at the massive natural structures, and kids were playfully running through the rock formations. I was happy to see so many people experiencing the outdoors, but did not care to linger too long. Sometimes a few hours is enough to appreciate an area, but no need to push it just to explore every inch of a park.
It was funny how our initial impression of Colorado Springs was quickly changed. Neither of us expected to see such greenery, nor did we think the mountains were as close as they were. Driving into town, we both were taken aback by the area's beauty. However, throughout our day driving to a few stores for groceries and supplies we saw more of what we thought Colorado Springs had. With the Air Force Academy as a prominent attraction for new residents, the city had a strong 'Merica vibe to it compared to the rest of Colorado's liberal population. The outskirts of the town showed a lot of wealth while the inner parts of the city drastically descended into landscapes of poverty. Quickly finishing our chores, we headed to our second, very important stop.
Eric is a huge nerd. Unfortunately, I am too. We love the old show Stargate SG1. If you haven't seen this awesome 90's sci-fi show, I am sorry for you, and you should go watch it now. It takes place in the Air Force base at Cheyenne Mountain, so naturally, we had to go see the entrance as much as we were allowed too. The base used to give tours, but since 9-11 the closest you can get is a view from Cheyenne Mountain State Park. It was fun to see Eric spot the entrance posts from a hill in the back of the campground through binoculars. It was a similar experience to when I took us through East Dorset for the filming location of Beatlejuice. Not much to see, but extremely satisfying.
We drove for a few more hours, and arrived at our first Wal-Mart stay for the year in Canon City. The next day we continued our drive through the western countrysides of Colorado to end at our second National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
This park is on of the least visited parks in the country, and is severely under rated. Immediately upon arrival we drove past the large canyon and both involuntarily exclaimed “whoa” as we had never seen black rock ominously descend so quickly. The flat desert scrub, lush and green from a wet winter, suddenly gave way to a precipitous and incomprehensibly dizzying chasms. The rock was streaked with rusty reds, mossy greens, and dark grey which was cut by a cloudy emerald green ribbon. That thin band of green along the canyon floor was in reality a violent rushing river swollen by spring snow melt, hinting at its power by a low roar audible from our perch half a mile above the turbulent water.
We hadn't even reached our campground for the night and we were blown away. Over the next four days we took our time exploring the North and South rim of this understated National Park. The weather was erratic, and clouds loomed above us the entire time. The park had a few hiking trails, most either falling into the category of short and easy or fuck-you hard down into the canyon. We stuck to mostly view points and the few moderate trails available. Sometimes, we go to a park and take a total of 10 photos, and other parks we can't help but continuously click the button. Not because one is more beautiful than the other, but more often, it is because we try to capture the feeling of the park which is ultimately futile. Black Canyon was the latter. We spent a lot of time learning and practicing with our camera, and trying our best to capture the depth of the canyon and the ominous feeling this park gave us.
On the drive to the north rim, we passed through a few small farming towns that benefit from agricultural diversion of the Gunnison river to make the land around it more hospitable and fertile. This gave us the slogan of Olathe's Sweet, Sweet Corn. Nuff said. Better go get that sweet, sweet corn.
The north rim was underdeveloped and equally as drastic as the south rim. We got rained on heavily as we tried to hike the main hike on this side, and then once we decided to leave, it cleared up on our way out. Figures. Weather hates us.
There were very few visitors, even over the weekend. The campground was also free since it was still technically winter. This fact was also reinforced on our last two mornings when the clouds finally broke and released a little more than a sprinkle of rain. On our second to last morning, we awoke to a light dusting of snow which kept us inside the trailer for most of the day waiting for it to stop coming down. That afternoon we had the whole park to ourselves as we hiked the Warner Point trail. The weather broke away allowing beautiful rays of sun to light up the Gunnison river, but the sunset was covered by the darkening clouds once again.
We also had to watch the park video, of course! This was by far the best one yet. I don't know what Ranger they got to do most of the talking, but he was very passionate about the parks beginnings and it was freakin' hilarious. I wish I bought a copy of this video in the gift shop. (“Pick axes, PICK AXES!”)
The following morning we woke up to a surprising 8 inches of fresh wet powder. Eric noticed this was going to be a problem when he said he distinctly remembers me waking up in the middle of the night to go pee outside, opening the door, exclaiming “nope!” and going back to bed.
In the morning we had to decide to stay huddled in the trailer and let the snow melt, or dig our selves out and travel on. Once we saw the maintenance crew plow the main road, Eric dug us out of the snow with our tiny trashcan as a shovel, and we hit the road towards the much warmer Durango. We took a last look at the canyon blanketed in snow, and said goodbye to this gem of a park. I am over the cold. I am ready for some desert warmth. I am sure I will eat those words soon, but for now, I was happy to descend out of Black Canyon and onward towards our next park, Mesa Verde.
As our trusty guide book describes it, “This is Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Impassable to explorers. Incorrigible to settlers. Incredible to recreational visitors.” Incredible it was.
11/10 would have difficulty comprehending Black Canyon of the Gunnison again.
Song: Za Smierc Przyjaciela – The Dreadnoughts