Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Continuing the travelogue on our trip west in the spring of 2009...

After our beautiful drive on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, we wound up in Montrose, Colorado. We had booked a room at the Best Western Red Arrow and were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. Our plan was to stay there that night and the next, while we visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is stunning. It's about a half-mile deep at its deepest. At one point, the two rims are only 1100 feet apart, but the canyon at that point is 2700 feet deep. Of course, it's not easy to capture the drama of this kind of scenery in a photograph, but that didn't keep me from trying.

By 1900, residents of the nearby Uncompahgre Valley wanted river water for irrigation, so five of them hazarded an exploratory float of the river but gave up after a month. Then, in 1901, Abraham Lincoln Fellows and William Torrence floated it on a rubber mattress - 33 miles in nine days - and said an irrigation tunnel was feasible. The 5.8-mile Gunnison Diversion Tunnel, begun in 1905 and dedicated in 1909, still delivers river water for irrigation of the valley.

Abraham Fellows wrote of his experience:
Our surroundings were of the wildest possible description. The roar of the water...was constantly in our ears, and the walls of the canyon, towering half mile in height above us, were seemingly vertical. Occasionally a rock would fall from one side or the other, with a roar and crash, exploding like a ton of dynamite when it struck bottom, making us think our last day had come.
Purple Lupine

Purple Lupine Lining a Trail

A local resident, checking to see if we would share our picnic lunch.

We spent the day, driving to the various trails and overlooks and walking to the edge to see down into the canyon. The walls are not black. In fact, there are some interestingly colorful streaks in the rock. But I think the name, "Black Canyon," comes from the fact that sunlight rarely, if ever, reaches into the depths of the canyon so that it appears to be black.

It's a beautiful and interesting place to visit. But don't get too close to the edge.


  1. Since my husband is a new National Park Ranger, I am so interested in your National Park posts! I can't wait to see where his next job will take us. Maybe to Gunnison National Park! Ps: Did you share your picnic lunch? Don't think I could resist.

  2. Now, now, Elizabeth. With a Ranger husband, you must know that feeding animals in the national parks is strictly prohibited. You don't think I'd admit to breaking that rule, do you? :)

  3. The lupine are gorgeous, it would be interesting to explore the floor of the canyon.

  4. Steve - The lupine were gorgeous. My photos don't do them justice. Apparently, their blooming period is short because there were professional photographers at the national park that day who had come specifically to photograph the lupine.

    I think the only way to explore the floor of the canyon is to traverse the Gunnison River. It looks as if the Gunnison IS the canyon floor. But that probably just intrigues a skilled kayaker like you even more. :)

  5. Gorgeous, Linda.... I have a blog friend who lives near the Uncompahgre Valley. She and her hubby are farmers out there... She posts lots of gorgeous pictures from that area.. It's AWESOME. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Hi, Betsy. That's pretty neat about your blog friend living out there. I imagine that they benefit from that irrigation tunnel.

  7. I think you did a fine job of capturing the drama of the canyon both with your camera and with your words. There are just so many beautiful places to explore. I'm glad you took us along for this one.

  8. Thanks so much, Hilary. The words of Mr. Fellows were helpful in providing a glimpse of what it was like at the bottom of that canyon. There are indeed so many beautiful places to explore. Thanks for coming along with me on this one.

  9. Another excellent post, Linda. You really do make each of these areas come alive with your pictures and commentary. Very well done, friend. :)

  10. Thanks so much, Sandra. You've been a great encourager from the start.


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