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Black Canyon of the Gunnison

posted Jul 8, 2018, 3:49 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 20, 2018, 5:04 PM ]

Sunday, we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel.  For a continental motel breakfast, it was pretty good.  We packed up our stuff and checked out, heading south to the north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  We first stopped at the ranger station to get a wilderness permit and then headed to the Balanced Rock Overlook to park.  Hiking up the road to a curve to the right, we headed off down Long Gulch.

The park service calls this Long Draw, but I've also seen Devils Slide and I like that name best so that's what I'll call it.  The Devils Slide descends from the road down to the Gunnison River, dropping 1800 vertical feet in just over half a mile, a slope of more than 40%.  It started out steep and didn't relent.  The first part had a lot of vegetation with box elder trees for shade and branches providing hand holds on the way down.  Much of the surface was loose rocks and gravel so every step seemed like it might trigger a landslide.

About half way down, there were two rock sections that were tricky to get down.  At about this point, we began to be able to see the river but it was still a long ways to go.  The trees and vegetation lightened and it was almost all loose rocks.  Looking across the river, we could see Echo Canyon.

Finally, we made it down to the Gunnison River.  It was really flowing and there would be no way across.  Looking upstream, we could see the Narrows, the narrowest section of the Black Canyon.

Downstream the river passed more sheer cliffs, so there wasn't much area to move around down here.

We had a light lunch down here and then started making our way back.  It was very steep and strenuous, but easier than going down.  We saw two other groups of people making their way down as we were heading up.  The sun was starting to get high enough to reach the draw, so I was glad we were almost out.  Back at the top, we headed to Balanced Rock Overlook.  Just in front of the overlook was a huge rock, appearing to be balanced precariously.

Glad I didn't notice that when we were far below!  Peering down, the river was visible nearly 2000 feet below.

The most interesting view from here was that of the Devils Slide - we could see the entire thing from the road down to the river.

It really put our hike into perspective.  We talked to some other folks at the overlook who were really surprised it was even possible to get down there.  Our next stop was just up the road at the Narrow Overlook.  There were nice views upstream into the canyon at the Narrows and beyond, but couldn't see into the Devils Slide.

In the other direction, we could see where the river made a sharp turn to the left.

There was some curl-leaf mountain mahogany growing near the overlook - really interesting feathery flowers.

We also saw some pinyon pine here, a common tree in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

Near the road, some scarlet gilia were blooming.

We then headed back to the ranger station and returned our wilderness permit, then set out on North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point.  It was a scenic hike and nice to have some flatter terrain.  Exclamation Point had great views looking east into the canyon.

A shady area provided a nice spot to relax and have a snack.  A little golden-mantled ground squirrel popped out while we were taking a break.

Next to Exclamation Point was a single, narrow spire sticking up - I think that's the dot in the !.

On the way back, there was another overlook along North Vista Trail with a great view of the bend in the river.

Finishing back up at the ranger station, we wanted to get in one more hike, so headed to the campground and picked up the Chasm View Trail.  This is a short, interpretive trail, but I think it might have the best views in the park, at least on the north rim.

The trail starts out through sagebrush and then through a pygmy forest of pinyon pine and Utah juniper.

Then it reaches the edge of the rim - the chasm view for which the trail is named.  We could see the Painted Wall, the tallest cliff face in Colorado from here.

Exclamation Point was visible just before the Painted Wall.  As we continued on the trail, a plateau lizard was sunning himself on some dead wood.

Looking back, we could still see Painted Wall around the bend.

At the end of the chasm view, there were nice views looking upstream into the Black Canyon towards the Narrows.

The trail then headed back to the starts and we spotted some cacti growing along the trail.

From here, we left the park.  Towards Crawford, there were really nice views of the mountains and Needle rock.

After a quick photo stop, we made our way to Montrose.  After checking into the Holiday Inn, we had dinner at Horsefly Brewing and went to bed early.