Published: October 8th 2009October 6th 2009
After the rainy day we had yesterday, we were very happy to see bright sunny skies even though it was a little cool with temps in the high 40's and low 50's. Our plan was to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is one of the steepest, darkest and most rugged of canyons and was formed by the Gunnison River as it flowed through hard ancient rocks at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, on its way to joining the Colorado river at Grand Junction. The gorge reaches depths of over 2,000 feet while often being only 1,500 feet across, sunlight illuminates the walls only briefly, hence the name 'Black Canyon'.
The Gunnison River drops an average of 43 feet per mile through the entire canyon, making it one of the steepest mountain descents in North America. In comparison, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile. The greatest descent of the Gunnison River occurs in the park at Chasm View dropping 240 feet per mile. The canyon walls are most often in shadow, causing the rocky walls to appear black. At its narrowest point the canyon is only 40 feet across at the river.
When we entered the park, we were greeted by a line of mule deer along the roadside and they just stood there as if they were the welcome committee. It was really cute. We first took the south portal road which led us along the canyon walls down to the river in the deepest part of the canyon. The river has an interesting history. In the early 1900 a tunnel 11 ft by 12ft was dug through the canyon wall to divert some of the river to the valley on the other side of the canyon wall for the purpose of irrigation. We learned the full fascinating story of how it was done when we viewed a film at the parks welcome center.
We then drove back up top and along the south rim for views from the various overlooks along the way. Lunch was at one overlook that had picnic tables and a whole lot of chipmunks scrounging for food. It's highly illegal to feed any of the wildlife in the national parks so these chipmunks went hungry today. I took a lot of photos both from down in the canyon and up on the rim but because of the depth, it was really difficult to photograph anything that would give the idea of how deep the canyon really was. We will just have to remember it as we saw it.