Black Canyon of the Gunnison near the town of Montrose in Colorado only became a National Park in 1999, but it has been known over a century for its rugged features, steep and narrow walls, and impassable nature.
In 1853 Captain John W. Gunnison led an expedition to explore it and described it as “a stream imbedded in [a] narrow and sinuous canyon, resembling a huge snake in motion.” A few months later, his party was attacked by a band of Utes, and he was among eight who were killed. The canyon river was renamed in his honor.
I took the following photos from the overlooks on the South Rim drive of the park.
The entire canyon is 48 miles (77 km) in length, but only the deepest and most dramatic 12 miles (19 km) are within the national park boundaries. The canyon is deep and steep because the Gunnison runs rather fast through it, dropping an average of 34 feet per mile (6.4 m/km) compared to the Colorado River at Grand Canyon which averages 7.5 feet per mile (1.42 m/km). Because of its almost vertical walls, sunlight only reaches the bottom of the canyon for 33 minutes a day, giving rise to the name of Black Canyon. However, the rocks on the canyon walls are varied in colors, not black.
Due to the rate at which the river cuts through the rocks, Black Canyon is also a very narrow canyon. At Chasm View, only 1,100 feet (335 m) separate the North and South rims.
Between 1905 and 1909, a 5.8 mile (9.3 km) diversion tunnel was dug to channel water from the Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley. The tunnel currently helps irrigate 76,300 acres of the valley which produces fruit and many crops, including Moravian malting barley used in Colorado’s Coors beer.
As we hiked up to Warner Point, I took the following photo of lush fields in the Bostwick Park mesa with the Uncompaghre Valley and the San Juan mountain range in the background.
Final stop was Sunset View point. I had hoped for a nice sunset, but a large black cloud loomed ominously. Still Sunset View yielded an interesting shot.