Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Rock Stomp

Painted Wall (right)

Tuesday, August 31, the alarm clocks on our phones woke us a little after dawn. After dozing a bit longer, Sean and I climbed out of the tent to prepare for the day. “We have to go see Painted Rock,” Sean kept saying groggily. Indeed, we wanted to go and see the morning light on the Painted Wall—the highest cliff in Colorado—before going to the Ranger Walk at 9am. Then it would be off to the north rim for the rest of the day.

Look at that eerie smoke-filtered sun.

We had a quick breakfast of coffee, apples, and toast with almond butter before we hit the road. Sean made sure we had plenty of snacks for the car.

Juniper. Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

We arrived at the Painted Wall overlook at 8:20. The light was still warm, although tinted by the omnipresent smoke in the air.

At this time of morning, the shadow of the south rim was about halfway up Painted Wall. Thinking about how the cliff we were gazing at is 2,250 feet high, we realized how difficult it is to actually fathom that.

Image: Sean M. Santos

We could clearly hear the river far below as it tumbled over a series of rapids.

Image: Sean M. Santos

There was only one other visitor with us at the overlook, a fellow named Ray from Los Angeles. Armed with a very nice camera and a selfie stick, he was on a big road trip hitting a bunch of National Parks.

Pink streamers of granite spread across the cliffs, coloring and animating the somber Black Canyon. Painted Wall, the two-thousand foot cliff on the north side of the Black Canyon, was named for the marbling of an intrusive, granite-like rock called pegmatite. In its molten state, this rock squeezed into fractures and joints in the schists and gneisses, creating what are called dikes. As the material slowly cooled, huge interlocking crystals of feldspar, quartz, and mica—some measured in feet rather than inches—formed. Because these igneous rocks are even more resistant than the schists and gneisses, they weather out as spectacular fins, islands, buttresses, and battlements, relieving the abruptness of the canyon walls.

– Rose Houk, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Ray had continued on his road trip, and we got talking to an old dude from Oklahoma City. He observed that we looked like we’d been on the road for a while and said he was jealous. We chatted for a while about our trip, but then we had to say goodbye. He seemed to want to talk more, but we had to get going to the visitor center for our 9am Ranger Program.

Image: Sean M. Santos

At 9am, a small group (10-12) gathered for “Rock Stomp,” an interpretive walk along the rim from the visitor center to Tomichi Point led by Ranger Jeremy from South Carolina.

Just as we got started, a retired couple from California decided to join even though they hadn’t registered. Ranger Jeremy said they could come along, but that we were about to start. So along they came. The wife was still wearing pajamas and carrying a mug of coffee. She would give me a couple mild coronaries throughout the walk since she’d stand right on the edge of the abyss with her back to the canyon.

As we walked along to our first stop, Sean and I got talking to some folks who were also at the previous evening’s Ranger Program in the campground. We all agreed that we really appreciated a good Ranger talk.


And “Rock Stomp” was a good Ranger talk. In fact, it was great. Ranger Jeremy mixed time for personal reflection with loads of geological facts. He distributed the information in nice chunks at multiple stops along the path. We were able to stand or sit and appreciate the views while listening to the talk and passing around the rock samples Ranger Jeremy had brought with him.


Gambel’s Oak

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

The program ended at Tomichi Point at 10:15. After we gave Ranger Jeremy a hearty round of applause, we began heading off to our respective days. About half of us returned to the visitor center with Ranger Jeremy to return to our vehicles or visit the park store.


Image: Sean M. Santos

Sean and I used the comfort station and made sure we were comfortable for the two hour drive to the north rim.

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