Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: A National Park Odyssey Day 41

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Checking out our 21st park of the trip!

Check out our podcast about this park here!

The town of Montrose, Colorado, where we had stayed the night is about a 20 minute drive from Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  We didn’t get a particularly early start on our day in the park.  In fact, we barely made it to our free hotel breakfast before breakfast hours were over.  Once we had cleaned up, availed ourselves of the free wifi, packed the car, checked out, and made the drive to the park, it was approaching 12:00.  We went to the South Rim Visitors’ Center where we picked up junior ranger booklets for the kids to work on and then checked out the overlook out back. 
The view from the overlook at the South Rim Visitors' Center was breathtaking!
The canyon was so different from what we saw at the Grand Canyon, Kings CanyonZion, or Bryce Canyon.  Its dark grey walls were streaked with white and fell in dramatic jags more than 2000 feet to the Gunnison River below.  While Josh and I were enjoying the beauty of the overlook, the kids started working on their junior ranger booklets.  I couldn’t keep myself from occasionally checking out the stability of the overlook structure because the steep canyon walls meant that there was nothing to break a fall to the bottom.  *shudder*
The kids wasted no time getting started on earning their badges.

Since it was nearly lunch time, we decided to head back to Montrose, let the kids work on their booklets during lunch, and then drive back afterward to see more of the park.  We found a brewpub called Horsefly Brewing Company that was highly rated online, and while the food was good, the kids had plenty of time to work on their booklets because the kitchen was painfully slow. 
Participation in a ranger-led program was required to earn the junior ranger badge at this park, so back at the park we joined one already in progress on the 1.6 mile Warner Point Trail.  Juniper and pinyon pines lined the trail, and Josh and the kids followed the junior ranger book’s directions to get an up close look at the forest floor. 
The place was packed, but the kitchen was slow.

Josh was a little more willing to go all in on checking out the forest floor than Knox was.  He preferred to squat.

Getting an ant's eye view of the ecosystem.

The ranger explained that there are no trails to the bottom of the canyon but that this doesn’t stop intrepid hikers from doing it anyway.  Josh had read one author who explained the hike to the bottom as more like controlled falling.  Hikers who want to go off trail must apply for a wilderness permit, and rangers limit the number of permits given.  Our trail guide told us about the many times that hikers have had to be rescued and easily convinced us to stay on the safe side of this wilderness sign.
After the trail, we went to check out the famous Painted Wall of the canyon which at 2250 feet is the highest vertical wall in the state of Colorado.  To give you some perspective, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago is 1450 feet high.  The white streaks that give Painted Wall its name are actually veins of pegmatite, a type of granite.  We took in the stunning views and then went back to the visitors’ center to let the kids collect their next badge.
I was happy to stay on the marked trails, thank you very much.

Painted Wall with the Gunnison River below

Enjoying the view

From there, it was nearly a four hour drive to our next destination, Great Sand Dunes, so we piled in the car and took off, marveling at the beauty of Colorado along the way.  Small roadside streams surely filled with native fish called to Josh as we drove, and we decided then and there that this definitely would not be our last trip to this area.
Just one of the many inviting trout streams we saw on the drive

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