Over the years, we’ve spent A LOT of time in Colorado, but only I had been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. And in our quest to visit all 59 of the national parks, it doesn’t count until we’ve been there together!
We finally visited it together last weekend, making it number 42.
We were returning to work at Fenton Ranch in New Mexico (teaching and caretaking) and decided to include a detour to see the park on our drive.
There are 2 entrances and I had previously been to the north entrance (less visited), so we explored the south side.
There are less than 5 miles of established trails on the south side, and we made sure to do them all. The Oak Flat Loop and Warner Point trails give you the best views of the deep and sheer canyon walls. Early settlers found the canyon to be foreboding given how dark and narrow it was. Back in the early 1900s when they finally surveyed the canyon via the Gunnison River, the expedition took 9 days to travel 33 miles!!
And while you can follow one of the unmaintained trails to get to the bottom, we took the easy way to see the Gunnison River. We drove down, down, down the 16% grade to get to the East Portal. This historic community developed because the surrounding areas of western Colorado needed a more reliable water source. However, to bridge the Gunnison River to the people and land, they needed to dig a tunnel through the mountain. While the East Portal community eventually dissolved, the tunnel thrived. Completed in 1909, this 5.8-mile long by 12-foot high tunnel still delivers river water for irrigation today.
The canyon is not the only sight to be seen while in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is known for its stargazing and is labeled as one of the “International Dark Sky Parks.” We camped on a clear night and the park even had a volunteer astronomer set up with his telescope. In addition to viewing 15,000+ stars and the Milky Way, he showed us Saturn and Jupiter through the telescope!
We are hoping to hit one more National Park before the end of 2017, but we are certainly pleased with how many we’ve hit this summer alone.