Saturday, July 8, 2017

Black Canyon of the Gunnison River

My goal was The Black Canyon of the Gunnison but first, I had to cross Monarch Pass.

Forty five miles to go, just under 25 MPH, and I am at 10,186 ft high.  (Phew, two miles up and the oxygen is getting thin!)

I stopped the RV to get a picture of this open pit mine that had denuded the area.  I was panting heavily when I climbed back in the vehicle. Daisy did not even try to convince me she wanted to go outside.

Another 500 ft and I was picking up speed.  Spirit is a champ. 

The Top! No over-heating, no huffing or puffing, no problems.  11,326 FEET!


I even spied some butterflies.  Who knew they would live that high up?

The trip to the bottom was a whole lot faster.

 Campgrounds began to appear along this reservoir where the Tomichi and Gunnison rivers converged.

We camped within feet of the lake and, even without tall trees, it was cool.

Water is everything in the west.

Checking in to the park I was told, "At 24 ft you are too long to drive to the bottom of the canyon.  Your vehicle can only travel on the rim."  

Looking down to the bottom I agreed, the rim was good enough for me.

At its narrowest the bottom is only 40 feet wide.
 The Black Canyon derives its name from  the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 30 minutes of sunlight a day.

Occasionally I would spy a vehicle at the bottom but nowhere could I discern a road.  Was there an elevator?

The rise and tilting of 1.7 billion year old basement rocks, formed the Gunnison uplift sixty million years ago.  This uplift provided a base for the young, two million-year-old Black Canyon.
 Streams flowed over an open, flat plain with little erosive power.


20 to 30 million years ago, volcanic eruptions formed the mountains to the north and south. Volcanic ash and debris forced the Gunnison River to flow across the uplift.

The River became trapped within the metamorphic rock that makes up the core of the Gunnison uplift. As the river eroded downward through this rock, it carved the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The canyon is so formidable that a ranger informed me, "No signs of habitation by native peoples existed in the canyon when it was first explored by the Europeans.  The Ute were superstitious about it and avoided the canyon as 'unfriendly."

The canyon was first mapped by Captain John Williams Gunnison in 1853.  He might have heeded their superstitions, he was killed by Ute warriors soon after his visit.

At 2300 feet, Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado.  

If the Empire State Building stood on the canyon floor, it would reach slightly more than halfway to the top of the cliff.  The patterns that inspired the name Painted Wall were created more than a billion years ago when molten rock was squeezed into fractures and joints in the existing rock, then cooled and hardened.

Talk about Infrastructure!
In 1881, William Jackson Palmer's Denver and Rio Grande railroad had reached Gunnison from Denver. The line was built to provide a link to the burgeoning gold and silver mines of the San Juan mountains. The rugged terrain precluded using 4' 8 1/2" standard rail; Palmer decided to go with the narrower 3' gauge. It took over a year for Irish and Italian laborers to carve out a 15-mile roadbed from Sapinero to Cimarron, costing a staggering $165,000 a mile. The last mile is said to have cost more than the entire Royal Gorge project.[11]
On August 13, 1882, the first passenger train passed through the Black Canyon. The editor of the Gunnison Review-Press rode in one of the observation cars; he remarked that the canyon was "undoubtedly the largest and most rugged canon in the world traversed by the iron horse. 

(All Italics is from literature provided by the park or from Wikipedia)

1 comment:

  1. One can hike some of the remains of the railroad bed at the bottom of the canyon and board a small tour boat for a Ranger led cruise on the river. Definitely worth doing. shows how we did that.