I grasp the look out railing and look over, my head nearly reaching my chin before I see the river flowing tumultuously across the bottom. Even from way up here I can here it echoing through the 53 mile long canyon. The rock walls on either side are streaked with pink, and jet out like fins in spots, denoting the variation in rock hardness. We'd saved this view for last, and now I was happy we did. It was the best one so far. Once again, this place defied all tradition, and the view without a hike, without any hard work to achieve, was the best.
Before this moment, before this view, we had left the log cabin-style visitor's center and walked the Oak flat trail. This well-maintained trail dropped then climbed again about 700 ft, and was riddled with little pockets to stop and take in the canyon. The benefit of the hike, as is always when we begin walking, was the change in perspective, or the chance to see the canyon and the rushing Gunnison River from many different angles. On top of this was the chance to connect with nature. The visitor's center offers information and many great displays on the type of animals, the deer, birds, plants, etc, that thrive in this area.
If you like to saturate yourself with information like me than the visitor's center won't disappoint. From a regularly run, brief introductory video, to ranger programs about the formation of the canyon and rock climbing this beast even the biggest info buff can get his fill. Finally, if being sporty is more your speed than you're also in for a treat. This canyon has hiking, rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, rafting, and even snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter.
But, despite this canyon's seductive prowess and the depth of activities it provides, visitation at the Black Canyon Park pales in comparison to the Grand Canyon. So, what are people missing out on? Why are they avoiding this monumental testament to the power and beauty of nature?
The drive here was beautiful, and complete with the feeling of seclusion that is so typical for this part of the country. Black Canyon Park is located about 10 miles East of Montrose, CO in the Curecanti National Recreation Area and about 70 miles from Gunnison, CO. If you've never heard of these two cities I wouldn't be surprised, as both are small towns located in Southwest Colorado. This feeling of being off the beaten path is only enhanced by the last 10 miles of the drive, which winds through expansive cattle ranches, climbs through the mountains, and crosses more green land and trees in acreage than the city of New York has ever possessed.
But, despite the inconvenient drive there the trip is worth it. Coming from Gunnison, CO provides the best drive in terms of scenery. Passing through the mesas, a large reservoir, called the Blue Mesa Reservoir, grows and shrinks as your car turns through the winding highway. On a sunny day you can understand how Blue Mesa got its name. Looking into the distance a haze hangs in the air, turning the mesas a light shade of blue. Maybe it's just a reflection of the water, or maybe it's just my imagination, but either way I can't help but think that the original settlers, the Ute Indians, were on to something.
Once more my eyes trace the winding Gunnison River from the furthest bend in one direction to the furthest bend in the other. Yup, I think, maybe the Ute Indians knew a little something about beauty, change and power that no amount of modernization today can update.
This article was previously published in issue 1 of Breaking Trail Quarterly