Black Canyon – North Rim

Wednesday I spent much of the day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  On Tuesday I learned that there are actually two entrances – North and South.  I first popped in the South Rim entrance to get a map and take some pictures of the three-dimensional model they have there.  I was on that side briefly last year (see posts on September 5, 2017) but felt I had to come back and spend more time here.

The red dots on the model represent overlooks and other landmarks on the South Rim.  The blue dots represent overlooks and other landmarks on the North Rim.  The Visitor Center (where I took these) in on the South Rim.  After taking these initial pictures I traveled over to the North Rim where I spent most of the afternoon.  It takes over two hours to get from one side to the other.


This a view of the model looking from the end.  I believe I read that the distance from one end to the other (scenic overlooks, accessible by car) is about 12 miles.  The Canyon is longer than that but other areas are only accessible my hiking.


There were 6 overlooks on the North Rim.  The vertical drop to the river from the second one I stopped at (The Narrows) is approximately 1,750 feet.  And believe me – if you climbed over the safety fence at the overlook you are going approximately 1,750 feet STRAIGHT DOWN.


As I took that picture I was thinking “please don’t drop the phone, please don’t drop the phone, please don’t drop the phone…..”

The largest vertical drop in the Park is around 2,700 feet at Warner Point, accessible only by hiking (hence – no photos!).

Black Canyon got it’s name because at some points it is so narrow that certain spots only get 33 minutes of direct sunlight per day.  Because of shadows, and when there are clouds overhead, the rock walls appear to be very dark in color.  Someone was quoted as saying that “No other canyon combines the depth, narrowness, and sheerness of Black Canyon”.

The Gunnison River drops an average of 95 feet per mile while traversing the Canyon.  It one spot, close to the “vertical drop” picture above, the river drops 48o feet in just a two-mile stretch.  This gives the river “cutting power” to push downward faster than erosion can widen it.

Here are a few pictures I took Wednesday from the North Rim overlooks.  I tried to pick the best ones and may post more later after I review them again.  I will be spending the day Thursday on the South Rim and will post more pictures from that vantage point (see also the September 5, 2017 posts from when I was here last year).


In the photo above, the river approaches from the left and curves to the left about 3/4 of the way toward the right of the picture.  In other words, if I were further to the right you’d be looking out through that part of the Canyon.




I’ll have to go through my pictures and post more.  It is hard to grasp just how deep and narrow the Canyon is at some spots.  The pictures really don’t do it justice.  There is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes.  After I took pictures I just stood and looked at the scenery and watched the birds and lizards.  When I got home I was kind of bummed that the photos just don’t convey what I actually saw.

It was also interesting to note that I probably only saw about a dozen cars driving around to the overlooks on the North Rim whereas I saw a dozen cars just in the parking lot at the Visitor Center on the South Rim.  The South Rim gets far more traffic because it is easier to get to.  I also expect business to pick up this weekend now that Memorial Day is upon us….

Who’s that over there??

This is the best way I could think of to try and convey just how big the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is. The first picture is looking towards the South Rim from the North Rim (actually, all of these pictures are…).


If I then zoom in to the top/center of the picture you’ll see a large motorhome.


Since I’m looking across the canyon you don’t get a sense of the depth, but believe me – it is substantial.

From another overlook I was able to spot the observation area at the Visitor Center over on the South Rim (see post above).


And yet another example.  On the left side of the first picture you’ll see a deep “V” shape of trees.  When zoomed in you’ll see a small motorhome and a car.  In the foreground is a formation called “Balanced Rock”.




Blue Mesa Pinnacle

As I drove west on Route 50, this formation was on the opposite side of the western-most Basin (Sapinero) of the Blue Mesa Reservoir.


Zooming in a little closer, where the left end meets the water is thought to have formed 150 million years ago.


The little crown at the top off the next portion is thought to have formed 28 million years ago.


And finally the right portion of the formation.


Here is the same formation Wednesday morning when it was not quite as cloudy.


Curecanti area – various

On Tuesday I drove west from Colorado Springs to Montrose.  As I approached Montrose I arrived first at the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which consists of three large lakes (they are actually called Basins since they are part of the Blue Mesa Reservoir), then a long, thin Reservoir called Morrow Point, then a long, thin Reservoir called Crystal, then the Gunnison River, which runs through Black Canyon of the Gunnison (get it now?) National Park.  Water flows east-to-west through those venues.

The surface of the 3 Blue Mesa Basins are at 7,719 feet.  After passing through the first dam, the surfaces of the Morrow and Crystal Reservoirs are at 7,160 feet.  After passing through another dam the water enters the Black Canyon at 6,547 feet and then continues to drop very quickly as it passes through the Park.

Here is the water exiting the first dam, flowing west (in this photo, up)


A small cactus (about the size of a large navel orange)


A sequence showing a boat traveling west to east.  Look closely in the center of the first picture.




Further west in the Morrow Reservoir (note the difference looking west with cloud cover reflecting off the water versus looking east with blue sky reflecting…). These were taken just a few minutes apart.




This formation is called the Curecanti Needle.  The first picture was taken Tuesday, with cloud cover, the second on Wednesday when it was sunny.