In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the melted snow of the distant Rocky Mountains cuts through half a mile of dark-colored gneisses and schists. The sheer mineral-striped walls of the Black Canyon are impressive from a geological standpoint as well. These formations are among the oldest rocks on the planet -- some date back more than 1.7 billion years.
Visitors to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park can view the steep bluffs from viewpoints on the North Rim, which is accessible from Hotchkiss, or on the South Rim, which is reached via Montrose. Such vista points as Chasm View and Dragon Point offer panoramas every bit as remarkable as anything at the much more crowded Grand Canyon.
The gorge is a favorite among kayakers and hikers, as well as wildlife enthusiasts. It offers excellent habitat for such species as bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk. Bird-watchers often spot raptors -- golden eagles, bald eagles, and red-tailed hawks, in addition to common upland species -- ravens, pinyon jays, black-billed magpies, and violet-green swallows.
The sheer canyon walls attract seasoned climbers, and the roaring waters of the Gunnison call to rafters. Although sections of the Gunnison River are designated "unraftable," there are other stretches that experienced kayakers can navigate. And for less adventurous travelers, there are beautiful hiking trails and numerous ranger-led activities. The park is particularly beautiful in the autumn when the color of the Gambel oak turns a warm rust red and the aspen are as bright as gold.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Photo Opportunities
The Black Canyon's plunging gorges and abundant wildlife offer ample views for shutterbugs. These stunning panoramas should not be missed:
- Chasm View: Chasm View outlook is accessible from South Rim Drive, which begins at the visitor center and follows the Gunnison River as it snakes north and west. From this vantage point, visitors can peer down to the tumultuous waters of the Gunnison far below. At Chasm View, the marbled pinks and whites of the Painted Wall are displayed to magnificent effect.
- Gunnison Point: Just a short drive or hike from the visitor center, Gunnison Point is often the first overlook travelers experience. Beware of the effects of vertigo -- the sheer walls of the canyon abruptly plunge almost 2,000 feet. Once you've adjusted to the dizzying height, you'll find that the view is amazing.
- North Vista Trail: This seven-mile trail is designated as strenuous, but for less ambitious hikers, the three-mile moderate version, which ends at Exclamation Point, is worth the walk. One of the most scenic hikes in the park, the path begins at the North Rim Visitor Center, passes through sage and oak brush, and then follows the canyon's lip through pinyon and juniper forest. The views of the inner canyon from Exclamation Point are some of the best in the park, and for those who continue on the path, panoramic vistas of the San Juan Mountains await them.
Almost 150,000 visitors make the pilgrimage to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park each year. There are many natural wonders to explore, and history buffs are eager to see the Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit, where remnants of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, which once carried passengers through the heart of the park, are on display. To learn about the construction and history of the rail line, continue to the next page.