I decided to take a road trip one day and ended up at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
(a little over an hour from my house). The Black Canyon is so named because it is so steep and deep that sunlight
penetrates into its depths only a limited amount of time each day. I spent the better part of the day driving the South Rim Road and
stoppping at most of the overlooks to take in the views. The entrance to the south rim of the park is 15 miles east of Montrose
via US Hwy 50 and CO State Hwy 347. The North Rim is accessed from Crawford via CO State Hwy 92 and Black Canyon Road.
The North Rim has limited services and is closed in winter. The road to the South Rim is plowed to the visitor center in the winter,
and there are trails for cross-country sking and snowshoeing. I'm not sure if the South Rim Campground stays open in the winter.
A word or two for the photgraphers out there. I found it hard to get good photos of the Black Canyon for a couple of reasons. The immense scale (depth and distance) of the canyon made it hard to get proper perspective to capture the awesomeness of the canyon, and contributed to hazy distant backgrounds. Also, the north canyon wall was generally bathed in full sunlight while the south wall was in complete shadow. This drove my exposure meter insane. A polarizing filter might have helped. Nevertheless, we all must soldier on, so I have presented the better photos below. The photos are grouped by overlook or viewpoint, and arranged in the order in which they are encountered along the South Rim Road. (Refer to the map on the second photo below).
Pulpit Rock Overlook
A short, 134 yard trail leads from South Rim Road to Pulpit Rock. The Gunnison River makes a bend and becomes more visible at the overlook. Looking upstream, the south side of the canyon is a more or less smooth slope covered with vegetation while the north wall of the canyon is more vertical and rugged.
From this vantage one sees deep crevices (fissures) in the sides of the cliffs.
The trail to Devil's Lookout is one of the longer ones (607 yards). The trail leads right to the edge of the rim, with views of a small part of the river, North Rim Road, and the West Elk Mountains. This overlook is located above the narrowest part of the canyon.
I highly recommend a stop at Chasm View. The view from the overlook is spectacular. The view takes in probably the steepest part of the canyon. Here the cliffs plunge 1,800 vertical feet in just 400 horizontal feet.
Painted Wall View
The Painted Wall, at 2,250 feet, is the tallest cliff wall in Colorado. It's twice as tall as the Empire State Building. The dark gneiss of the wall is criss-crossed with pinkish bands of pegmatite that look like they were painted on, giving the wall its name.
The 303 yard trail to Cedar Point is an interpretive trail, with lots of interesting stops along the way. Cedar Point overlooks the lower canyon with 1.5 miles of the river visible. At this point the canyon starts to widen and the cliff walls become less steep.
Sunset View has a large parking lot, picnic tables, and a vault toilet. The downriver portion of the Gunnison can be traced almost all the way to the Uncompahgre River valley. The Black Canyon really starts to widen here.
High Point is the last stop on South Rim Road. It has picnic tables but not much of a view. The trail to Warner Point starts here (a little less than a mile one way). Warner Point is the furthest overlook on the South Rim.
Some background content provided by the National Park Service.
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