Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Western Colorado, Part II)

Nobody’s ever heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park—partly because it’s one of the newest parks (it was founded in 1999,) and partly because it’s not really on the way to anywhere. If you just happened to be driving through the town of Montrose, Colorado, you would never guess that you’re only a few miles away from an enormous canyon. Until you’re inside the park itself, the landscape around Montrose isn’t particularly inspiring (just some rolling hills and small mountains.)

But the park deserves to be more well known—because it’s really, really cool.

Basically, Black Canyon is a smaller version of the Grand Canyon—but it’s also unique enough to make it a worthwhile visit, even if you’ve already been to its more famous Arizona cousin.

Here’s why it’s so cool:

The dark coloring of the rocks in the canyon made it more... Foreboding.

The wall with the stripes is called "The Painted Wall" - a 2250' sheer cliff (the tallest "vertical wall" in Colorado)

The top of the canyon was surprisingly pretty, with lots of wildflowers
 There’s nothing like walking to the edge of the viewing platform and looking down—straight down, 2,000 feet. It’s acrophobia-inducing, yes, but also rather awe-inspiring. 

(It's also quite cool to see birds flying below you.) Unfortunately, cameras (and my camera in particular) are not very good at capturing the sheer depth and enormity of landscapes like this. It's one of those "you kind of have to be there" things.

I also took one of the short (mile or so) hikes that travel along the canyon’s edge beyond the end of the scenic drive—I was able to see some different views of the canyon, some wildlife, and the rather verdant plateau located right outside the park. 

I liked this really green plateau at the bottom of the mountain, with the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Some more of the landscape outside the canyon area.

I think this is a Collared Lizard.

One of the things that make Black Canyon unique is that, unlike the Grand Canyon, you can actually get to the bottom without taking a multi-day hike. Yes, there’s a road to the bottom—however, the road has a 16% (!) grade in spots, so you have to take it careful and slow. However, it’s a worthwhile visit, since the view from the bottom is really, really different from the view from the top. You actually get to see the river, and it’s rather cool looking straight up the sides of the cliffs.  

Hey, it's me on the rim of the BCotG!

It’s an awesome park and anyone that happens to be visiting Western Colorado [but who visits Western Colorado?] oughta pay it a visit. However, it’s also a pretty small park—unless you want to hike to the bottom of the canyon, you can easily see it all in just a few hours. Fortunately, it fit perfectly into our travel plans, and it was only a few miles out of our way. We were able to take the tour in a few hours, and then leave without feeling like we had missed anything—a rarity for national parks, which are usually so full of possible hikes and tours that you feel like you could never see everything that there is to see.  

After we left the park, we continued to drive south towards Mesa Verde—little did we know, however, that we were about to drive on one of the most terrifying paved roads in North America.