Drop-Dead Gorge(ous)

After spending eleven days exploring “The Mighty 5”, I believe I’ve inhaled enough red dust to qualify for the first NASA Mars mission. Utah’s red dust had infiltrated everything, leaving a veiled matte finish on every surface: inside the Airstream, inside the truck, inside our undies, and inside our lungs. Leah and I were more than ready to move on to Colorado’s cool, crisp mountain air. Or so we thought…

We also thought we were leaving the heat behind, but unseasonable high temperatures followed us across state lines, where records have been set. All we’ve heard thus far, is “It’s not supposed to be this hot until July and August.” And at the other extreme, ski resorts in Utah and Colorado have experienced a late spring ski surge, with the Rockies holding onto three feet of snow that fell three weeks ago, resulting in officials closing the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and posting avalanche warnings throughout the high country. If only the climatologists responsible for this hoax would go back to being less fake, then the rest of us would know how to prepare for normal weather.

Nevertheless, our first stop in Colorado has been encouraging, thus far. During our stay, the temperature at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park reached eight degrees over average for this time of year, which translated into a comfortable 90°F for us, down from customary triple-digit readings we endured while in Utah. It meant we could sleep with open windows at night, although it left us vulnerable to drifting cigarette smoke, and prone to a crying baby, a chatty family, a barking dog, and an occasional late-night motorcycle arrival.

Our visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park afforded us two different perspectives: from atop the rim…


and the water’s edge.river view

The scenic road above follows a serpentine road with several stunning overlooks that highlight dramatic changes in the cliff face,wall detail

wall colorsas the roar of the Gunnison River echoes against the sheer walls of gneiss and schist.

long view of canyon

painted wallfissuredragon pointThe river’s pivotal role in carving out 2 million years of metamorphic rock has resulted in canyon walls that plunge 2700 vertigo-inducing feet at Warner Point into wild water that has been rated between Class V and unnavigable.

Gunnison River down the canyonCU Gunnison rapidsThe view at Dragon Point showcases brilliant stripes of pink and white quartz extruded into the rock face, personifying two dragons who have symbolically fused color into a somber Precambrian edifice.dragon wall

The view from the bottom up accentuates the towering spires laced with lush and vivid flora.ridgelinespiresridgeline1and focuses on an untamed water system that’s required three dams to slow the erosion of the canyon floor.

Ford and damAccording to Park Service statistics, left unchecked, the Gunnison River at flood stage would charge through the gorge at 12,000 cubic feet per second with 2.75 million-horse power force. Dams now provide hydroelectric energy, and have created local recreation facilities for water sports, including Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water.

Black Canyon can be seen in one day, but a drive to the Curecanti National Recreation Area, 50 miles away, can easily turn into a two-day love affair with solitude and wilderness.

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