Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Our 2021 summer travels took us to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. We stayed at the Montrose/Black Canyon KOA Journey in Montrose, CO. That placed us about 14 miles to the South Rim Visitor Center. We visited the park two consecutive days. On the first we stopped by the South Rim Visitor Center. Although the exhibit was closed due to COVID-19 protocol, a few rangers were outside to answer questions. The short trail (0.1 mi.) behind the center, Gunnison Point Overlook, gives a sneak preview of sights to come. 

Black Canyon began 1.8 billion YA with the Gunnison Uplift deposits of metamorphic rock followed by the forceful flow of the Gunnison River 2 million YA. Time, weather, and the flowing river carved out this narrow, yet steep, canyon. Its narrowest point at the rim is the Chasm View at 1,100 feet. At the canyon bottom The Narrows measures only 40 feet across. Over its 48-mile stretch Warner Point boasts the greatest depth at 2722 feet, about half as deep as the Grand Canyon.

We drove Black Canyon Scenic Drive along South Rim Road, 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point, winding along the canyon with twelve viewing points. Although we stopped at most, Chasm View and Painted Wall View stand out as breath-taking. As the tallest cliff in Colorado, the Painted Wall shows off as blackish gneiss streaked with pinkish pegmatite. The view trail is a scant 0.2 mi. easy walk. The Chasm View Trail (0.6 mi.) offers amazing looks at the canyon’s depth.

We ended up at High Point where we decided to return for a hike. We chose Warner Point Trail. Warner Point is named for Mark Warner, a Presbyterian minister instrumental in the preservation of Black Canyon. The trail marker denotes a length of 1.5 miles in/out with a 406-foot elevator gain. My pedometer clocked a bit over 2 miles, but my stride probably differs some from the formal measurement. The elevation gain is correct in that the trail flows up, down, up, down before a final ascent to the zenith. It is worth the hike as the views are quite spectacular.

The skies held misty rain over us most of the morning. A cool, damp early ascent turned into blue skies with soft clouds by mid-day. The trail winds through pinyon pines and juniper. It reaches the zenith with gorgeous views of the Gunnison River still carving its way through the canyon.

The return hike gave us a new look at the mountain scenery that we failed to notice coming up. As the sky gave up the clouds intermittently, it showed clearer views of the San Juans and the surrounding terrain. We decided that we will definitely return to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It offers too much experience for one trip.

Happy Trails!

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