Thursday, July 2, 2015

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado - Hiking

After packing up camp at Great Sand Dunes National Park and narrowly escaping death by mosquito along  the Medano Pass primitive road, Roger and I took scenic highway 149 through the Rio Grande National Forest.  For the first part of the drive, we followed the Rio Grande as it flowed from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains.  We passed through small mountain towns filled with summer tourists and along Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Curecanti National Recreation area before finally arriving at Black Canyon the the Gunnison National Park.

Arriving at Black Canyon

Before setting up camp in the expansive South Rim Campground, we made a quick stop at the visitor center and caught our first glimpse of the canyon.  Black Canyon is steep, deep, and overwhelming.  The canyon walls drop nearly 2,000 feet to the Gunnison River below, appearing almost vertical when standing on the edge.  The sound of raging river rapids echoing through the canyon, darkness, and jagged black rocks contrast with the peacefulness of walking in the sunshine along the rim.  We made several short hikes from the Rim Drive Road to various overlooks of the canyon, each with its own perspective of the Gunnison River below.  As the sun set, we made our way back to the visitor center areas and set up camp in the peaceful campground.

Gunnison River

Looking into Black Canyon

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Colorado's highest cliff - the Painted Wall

The campground was great and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and full moon rise as we ate dinner.  The area was packed with wildlife including several deer in our campsite and a nest full of newborn birds.  Some sites offered limited privacy, but ours was completely surround by scrub oak trees and bushes.

Sunset at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Full moon at camp

Deer having breakfast

The next morning, Roger and I hiked from the campground to the visitor center, and then along the Oak Flat Loop Trail.  This was a great trail that dropped below the rim and offered some unobstructed views of the canyon.  It was early and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves - not a single person on the trails!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Hiking the Oak Flat Loop Trail

After breakfast, we packed up camp one last time and headed off to Ouray, the final destination for our Colorado trip.  It was time to celebrate the 4th of July!