River Cut Cliffs

Trip Start Mar 30, 2012
Trip End Oct 12, 2012

Flag of United States  , Colorado
Friday, May 25, 2012

We left the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and headed west and little north towards Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It was another four hour day of driving, essentially going back to west Colorado up slightly north of Mesa Verde. Gabe drove us the whole way, and since we didn’t really sleep that well we were both tired. I was so tired that I fell asleep without realizing it, and when I woke up we were passing the Blue Mesa Reservoir - absolutely beautiful, but we still had another hour and half left of driving to do to get to the park. It was a very scenic drive to the park, and once we pulled in we were amazed by the Black Canyon. We pulled into the visitors center to ask about camping and hiking trails. The nice ranger told us about the two campgrounds that were accessible on the South Rim side, South Rim and East Portal campgrounds. The East Portal was only accessible by driving down a 6 mile road with 16% downgrade, and the South Rim was on the same road we drove in on - we decided on the South Rim. She also told us about South Rim Road and that if we do nothing else, we have to see the famous Painted Wall. We decided that we would go set up camp since it was later in the afternoon, and then decide if we had time for a quick hike. 

We pulled into the campground and headed for loop C, which was the first come first serve loop. We drove around twice and finally decided on campsite number 16. Once we had the tent up, we decided that we had plenty of time to do a small hike. We decided on the Rim Rock Trail since the trailhead was at the edge of the campground. We picked up the trail guide and started our way down the trail. After two or three markers we were really able to see the canyon. We read that it was called “black” because of its steepness which makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate very far down the canyon. The park protects 14 miles of the total 48 miles the canyon that was carved by the Gunnison River over 2 million years. The trail took us alongside of the top of the canyon, and we could see down the over 2,000 ft drop, and hear the roar of the river even from the top - it was spectacular. We didn’t complete the whole trail since it was late and we wanted to have enough sunlight to cook dinner. Once we were back at the campsite we decided to fix canned chili, broccoli, some pumpernickel bread that Ariel had given us, and our New Mexico wine - delicious. Not long after we finished dinner we decided to crawl in the tent and watch a movie on the iPad. We were both tired and decided we should relax and get some sleep.

The next morning we decided we would do the scenic South Rim Road drive. We packed up the campsite and headed out. Our first stop was Pulpit Rock Overlook. And as the name implies, you walked out on to a rock and could see the whole canyon, just wonderful. The next overlook we picked was Devils Lookout, which was a 600 ft walk in from the road. The wind started to pick up and as we were hiking to this overlook, and once we made it we were glad there were guardrails to hold onto! The views from this lookout were breathtaking with the sharp cliffs on one side, the river in the middle and the less steep cliffs on the other side. We walked back to the car, and decided to drive to the Painted Walk Overlook (2,250 feet, it's the tallest cliff in Colorado), and this was only about a 200 ft walk. Because of the types of minerals that make up the canyon - quartz, feldspar, and mica - and the erosion from the river, the quartz lines in the cliff walls look like they were painted, just amazing. We wrapped up our visit by driving down the East Portal Road to the river inside the canyon and having a picnic lunch. What an incredible place!
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