Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park protects 30,750 acres of western Colorado where the Gunnison River carves one of the most dramatic gorges on the continent. After lobbying by nearby residents, President Herbert Hoover declared it a National Monument just before he left office in 1933. Congress upgraded it to a National Park in 1999.
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 29, Black Canyon was our destination after our final morning and early afternoon at Mesa Verde National Park.
Our three-hour drive followed a route up the Dolores River into the western portion of the San Juan Mountains.
It was highly scenic, to say the least.
We passed Mount Wilson and Telluride before eventually descending.
As we drove, we listened to Dolly Parton’s America. I was catching up, although Sean had finished it.
We arrived in Montrose, Colorado, the closest town the the Park.
After stopping in town for gas and to top off our washer fluid, we continued up to the Park.
Approaching from Montrose, it’s difficult to imagine that a deep canyon is nearby.
We turned off the highway and climbed up the twisting road into the Park.
The South Rim Campground is near the Park entrance. We located our site, A14, and had a look around a bit. The site was near the road, but it was very private nevertheless. Perfect.
Before setting up camp, we drove back down to the intersection at the highway to buy some firewood.
Back up in camp, we pitched our tent and settled in.
The sunset was rendered eerie by a considerable amount of wildfire smoke in the air moving east from fires in California. Our time at Black Canyon would prove to be the most smokey of our trip.
We grilled some green chile brats and washed them down with wine.
I caught up on my notes by the campfire until it was time to climb into the tent and go to sleep.
Next morning, Monday, August 30, I woke up around 7. Sean was awake and very unhappy because his sleep pad had deflated overnight. I climbed out of the tent, and he rolled over onto my sleep pad to try and go back to sleep.
I went to the closest pit toilet, which was a bit overrun with yellow jackets. Apparently this is a thing at Black Canyon. Yellow jackets and highly aggressive deer. We were just past the most dangerous time of year for deer, but we were in the midst of yellow jacket season.
Back in camp, I putzed around and made coffee and sorted things until Sean got up.
Poor Sean emerged from the tent justifiably grumpy and frustrated.
We had a simple breakfast of clif bars and apples before climbing in the car to head over to the Visitor Center. I had seen a sign for ranger-led tours and we thought we’d inquire about them.
On the way over, we stopped at Tomichi Point Overlook to get our first true look at the canyon.
I wasn’t expecting the dramatic fins of rock extending from the canyon walls.
We continued to the Visitor Center. Sean used the restrooms there (which were much better than the pit toilets in the campground) while I asked about the tours. The Visitor Center itself wasn’t open because of COVID, but the Western National Parks Association bookstore was open. We saved that for later.
I signed us up for a 9am ranger walk the following morning and noted that there would be a ranger program in the campground amphitheater that evening. We also stamped our passports
The visitor center area was busier than we were expecting, almost uncomfortably so for COVID times.
Since we now had a morning program here at the South Rim planned for the following day, we decided to spend this day making the long drive over to the largely undeveloped North Rim to check it out.