Active Travel, Hiking, Road Trip, USA

Black Canyon of the Gunnison & Colorado Monument

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a secret gem of the Rockies.  This is one of the the best places and least crowded National Parks in the United States.From our base at the pretty town of Montrose, Colorado, this National Park was only a short twenty minutes drive away.  The admission is $20 but admission was free for us since we had purchased the America the Beautiful National Park annual pass.After passing the entrance station, there are two main driving routes for exploring the park.  Turning left would be the south rim road that provides overlook views of the canyon.  Turning right would be the east portal road that lead down to the river at the bottom of the canyon.We turned right as we were advised the road down to the canyon floor is challenging and very steep so best to do it first while we were still energetic.  Sure enough, the road had numerous hair pin turns, and some sections were 16 degrees grade downward and narrow.After twenty-five minutes of careful driving, we made it down to the bottom of the canyon.  We parked our car in the small parking lot along side two other vehicles.  We spent about 15 minutes checking out the fast flowing rivers, read some interpretive signs about the Gunnison Diversion Dam, and marveled at where we were.We then drove back up on the same road back to the park entrance station and turned left for the upper scenic south rim road. The Visitor’s Centre is located shortly inside the park entrance.We have seen pictures of this park before but to see it in person have us completely awestruck.  It is truly an incredible, natural landscape.  The views are breathtaking at every turn.  There are about 10 to 11 places to pull over for views and/or short hikes.  All the view points had safety barriers so one can get really up close to view the canyon’s steep walls in complete safety.Nevertheless, for anyone with fear of heights, the drop to the canyon bottom is about 2,000 feet so no amount of guard rail barrier would completely ease the fear.We spent about three hours on this drive, slowly savioring all the different sections.  To see the backdrop of the high 14,000 mountains, combined with the sheer walls of the black canyon is an unforgettable experience.As we continued onward in Colorado, we came upon yet another National Monument which preserves some of the grandest landscape of the America West.The Colorado Monument is 23,000 acres of canyons, plateaus and massive towers of naturally sculpted monoliths, including Balance Rock, a 600-ton boulder perched on a rock pedestal.We entered the park via the entrance located outside the city of Grand Junction, Colorado.   For some reason, this entrance was not staffed.  There was only a sign to indicate payment is required upon leaving the park at the west (Fruita) entrance.Fortunately, we had previously picked up a map of the park from the Grand Junction visitor center for our self guided exploration drive.There were about 16 to 18 pull outs to enjoy the glorious views.  Vertical cliff walls and great natural rock sculptures tower over deep canyons.  There are spire shapes, hand shapes, organ shapes, rising from the canyon floor like stone skyscrapers.Most pull outs, about 14 of them, have short hikes not only just to stretch our legs, but also to walk out for even more dramatic views.  These are very short scenic trails with cactus’s blooming and lots of wildflowers.We spent about 4 hours exploring, stopping at 75% of all the view points and hikes.  For most of the stops, we were either completely on our own, or with just a few other tourists.We have now visited all of the top 8 National Parks/Monuments in the Colorado Plateau (Arches, Bryce, Canyonland, Capitol Reef, Colorado Monument, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Zion).

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