Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wow! Wow! Wow! -- Sun., July 29

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, South and North Rims:

Before we left our 5er at the RV Park, a rainbow appeared over us. Delta, Colorado is known for the murals painted on the walls around town. I captured some as we drove along the main street.
Rainbow over us.

Dino art.

Sunday morning we were on the road (pick-up truck only) at 7:40 a.m. and arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison by 8:15 a.m. 

The only words coming out of my mouth were “WOW! WOW! WOW! This is so gorgeous, spectacular, awesome, stunning.”
We watched a 20-minute video about the discovery of the canyon and the attempts at early exploration. Then we hiked to the viewpoint below the visitor center. The canyon walls fell away sharply--dark grey, light grey, white, pink and yellowish rock--formed by years of erosion. At the bottom of the canyon flows the emerald green Gunnison River, harnessed from its former power by dams upstream. The erosive forces of the river have slowed sharply over the recent years.

Viewpoint at South Rim Visitor Center

South Rim Visitor Center
Big fat lizard sunning.
Gunnison River

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park views are from above only; unless you are a highly experienced hiker, rock climber, or kayaker. Even then permits are de rigeur to go into the inner canyon.

For four hours, we walked or hiked at the turnouts, viewpoints and end of the road. Each section of the park we visited greeted us with dramatic views of rocks, canyon, dikes, river, cross fissures, vistas of the surrounding farmlands or mountains. 

The longest hike of 1.5 miles roundtrip at the highest point in the park (over 8,000’) traversed up and down over hills, through juniper and gambel oak forest to a viewpoint overlooking more of the canyon and mountains in the distance.

Juniper bark.

Our trail interpretive brochure pointed out a juniper that was a seedling when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. 

A very old juniper.
Even though the altitude was over 8,000’, I didn’t get any more winded than a normal trail with the ups and downs of this one. Guess I’m in better shape than I thought.

The park ranger at South Rim told us the drive to North Rim would take 3-1/2 hours on the scenic route through Cimarron and over Blue Mesa Dam; only 2/12 hours going through Hotchkiss and Crawford. We decided on the more scenic route.

When our exploration of the South Rim was complete (except for a drive down to the bottom on East Portal Road with a 16% grade and hairpin turns), we exited the park and headed east on US 50, the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway.

Next stop, Cimarron. What’s there, you might ask? A historic railway exhibit about the narrow gauge train that ranchers used for livestock shipping, that’s what. If you go, don’t miss out on the drive into the canyon to view the Morrow Point Dam and an exhibit of a narrow gauge railroad bridge. Also in the canyon are a picnic area and a hiking trail along the river.
Beautiful farmland exiting South Rim Black Canyon.


Narrow gauge vs. regular rail.
Exhibit of narrow gauge cars.
Drive into canyon.

Exhibit of narrow gauge bridge.

Gunnison River below dam.
Morrow Point Dam
From Cimarron we continued east on US 50 to CO 92 north and crossed over Blue Mesa Dam, then headed up more of the West Elk Loop Byway. We made a quick stop at the Blue Mesa Dam Overlook, made even quicker by the thunder, lightning and beginning of large raindrops on our heads.

The road was narrow and steep. Up and up we went, then up some more. Added to the drama of sleep cliffs on one side, and signs warning of rockfall and possible landslides, the sky opened up with a massive downpour. The road was like a river, lightning flashed, thunder boomed, and we continued driving. Pretty soon it felt like we were on top of the world.

A viewpoint at the top was staffed by a very gregarious park ranger who asked if we had any questions. Bob asked him about the geology. I asked him about the Hermit’s Rest Trail. The trail is 6 miles roundtrip, descending 1,800’ to Morrow Point Reservoir and back up. He drily stated, “I don’t think today would be the best day to do the hike.” (Ya think?)
Morrow Point Reservoir from above.
We made it to the North Rim turnoff close to 3:30 p.m. We were to meet our friend Jeanette, another full-time RVer, whom we met workamping at last winter. No cell phone coverage to tell her we wanted to have a later dinner, so we stopped by the campground where she worked and talked to her in person. (The campground was only two miles from the turnoff to the North Rim.) We wanted to set a time to have dinner and decided on 6:00 p.m. which would give us enough time to check out the viewpoints on the North Rim of the Black Canyon and give us time to return to her motorhome.

North Rim was as great as the South Rim, except a lot of the road is gravel. The viewpoints are either right next to the road or a very short walk with the exception of the trail to Exclamation Point near the North Rim Ranger Station. We did not have time to do the longer hike. North Rim Black Canyon photos:

Bob and "The Beast"

Finishing up at North Rim, we had some extra time, so we drove through Crawford and Hotchkiss, Colorado to check out restaurants. Upon our return to Jeanette’s MH, we sat and talked for a while then decided to try country bar for dinner. We drove a couple of miles out of Crawford only to find out they were closed on Sunday evening.

Plan B entailed driving 10 miles to Hotchkiss for a dinner at Zack’s Bar-B-Que. Good choice. The food and service were excellent. All of us enjoyed the dishes we ordered. Bob and I had the barbecued chicken dinners and Jeanette chose the Chopped Beef Sandwich. Our dinners came with chicken, barbecue sauce, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and a roll. We were hungry after all our hiking and exploring and we wolfed the food down. Such a great visit to get caught up with our friend.

Jeanette and Susan
We returned to the 5er around 9:00 p.m. to find a couple of very hungry kitties waiting for their dinner.

Wildlife today: cottontails, lizards, turkey vultures, cliff swallows, white-tailed deer, grey fox, ground squirrels, chipmunks.

Travel Bug’s lights out.