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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

August 11, 2012

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While driving from Utah to Mesa Verde, CO, M and I decided that we would do a last minute trip to Black Canyon of Gunninson National Park. The canyon formed due to the downward flow of the Gunnison River. Its steep drop in elevation (average of 34 ft per mile) carved out the narrow canyon and created 2000 ft tall walls which obscured the river valley, giving it its name. 

When we drove into the town of Delta, CO, we followed the road signs for the park which led us through Colorado vineyards and fruit farms. It also inadvertently led us to the north entrance along highway 92. The northern section of the park was primitive and didn't have access to the easiest hike down the canyon. The Gunnison Route may be considered the easiest descent into the canyon but it was listed as very strenuous and required disembarking an 80 ft chain to get to the river. The biggest problem for us was that the hike was in the south section, across the canyon. We decided to drive to the scenic overlooks and hiked the Chasm View Nature Trail before driving to the south entrance. 

Our routes to get to south Gunnison were to either switchback down the canyon along highway 92 or to go back the same way and then pass through the town of Montrose. We decided to save time and chose the latter option. Once we made it to the south section, we filled out our hiking passes for the Gunnison Route and started our descent from the visitors center.

The hike consisted of downward switchbacks along the canyon wall. 1/3 mile of the hike was on the Oak Flat Loop Trail before splitting to the River Access route. Once on the River Access, the trail became less maintained with loose dirt, rocks, and twigs. The dirt made it difficult for us to get a good footing especially since we decided to not bring our trekking poles. When we were half way down the River Access trail, I slipped and twisted my ankle. Not wanting to incur more injuries, we began ascending back to the visitors center. When we reached where the trail split, we decided to finish Oak Loop and hiked through various thickets of oak and aspen trees. Though my ankle wasn't the best, we finished the hike and vowed to come back so we can finish scaling down the canyon wall.

Accidentally ended up in the North Rim section of Black Canyon of Gunnison

Vegetation along the road

Modest sign for North Rim entrance

Foreboding view

Look before you leap! 

Looking down into Black Canyon of Gunnison! 2000 ft drop.

Canyon walls

Walking along the path for Chasm View

The canyon is so narrow that we could see people across from us.

Black Canyon of Gunnison, the Narrows

Gunnison River

The Narrows

Had to get back on the highway and drive to the south section of the park since North and South sections don't connect

Railroad track and badland formation

Main entrance to Black Canyon of Gunnison

Tomichi Point

We got the last two permits of the day for river access. The trail to the river on Oak Flat Loop

Oak Flat Loop

Took the trail on the right, descending to the river

Oak Flat Loop

M on Oak Flat Loop Trail

Oak Flat Loop

Looking back at the trail and our descent

Birch trees on Oak Flat Loop trail

Start of the River Access portion of Gunnison Route

The trail was now much steeper

View of the North section of the canyon from Gunnison Route

Looking back at the rocks we scrambled down 

Trail switchbacks down the canyonside

M on the trail going further down to where the chain was located. After this, I slipped and twisted my ankle so we ended our river excursion and finished the Oak Flat Loop trail

Back on Oak Flat Loop Trail

Oak Flat Loop

Oak Flat Loop

View of North Rim Section from Oak Flat Loop

Climbing up the canyon side from Oak Flat Loop

Oak Flat Loop

Oak Flat Loop

Oak Flat Loop

Oak Flat Loop

Kingcup / Claretcup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus

Black Canyon of Gunnison

View of the Visitors Center from Oak Flat Loop 

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