Sunday, June 1, 2008

Black Canyon of the Gunnison: North Rim

Distance: 5 miles
Overlooks: 6

The North Rim of the Black Canyon is far more scenic than the South Rim. The canyon seems wider, the views of the river are more expansive, and there are far less people. There is no way from the South Rim to North Rim without a long drive, however so be emotionally prepared for a little road butt. To get to the North Rim, you can go through Hotchkiss in the north or head out Hwy 50 to the Blue Mesa Reservoir and then take Hwy 92 north. This is the better option. On the map Hwy 92 looks like a half-twisted slinky, and it is very curvy, but those curves wind through continuous stands of aspen and valleys with ballad inspiring views of purple mountains majesty. I have already put this route on my fall driving list. It should be phenomenal. The road to the park itself starts just south of Crawford and presents wide-angle views of the West Elk Mountains and Needle Rock. It traverses attractive farmland, well irrigated into an emerald green.

There are only 6 lookouts on the North Rim but we found ourselves lingering at them because their views were so expansive. On the South Rim we tended to bolt from overlook to overlook. There is a campground as well, which looked very pleasant. Most of the sites were beneath twisted Junipers, which created a sense of coziness as well as providing needed shade on a blazingly hot summer day.

The north side of the canyon stays colder and wetter compared to the south and hence is more eroded. This has resulted in islands of rock upon which conifers, ground cover, and lichens cling with dogged persistence.

The one thing that I found most striking about the Black Canyon is the continuous roar of the river, which reverberates against the rock and tingles the eardrums with an elemental agelessness. I leaned against the warm rock along the chasm view trail and closed my eyes. Stone holds the memories of ages past, and if you still your mind for just a moment you can hear it whisper its’ earthly secrets. It will tell you about the constancy of process and the inevitability of change. Erosion, the primary process that has shaped the canyon, is still occurring with unceasing relentlessness. The soft gravel of the Rim Drive, the rocks falling into the canyon, and much of the topography of the Western Slope are all witness to the power of cumulative change.

Just outside of the park is BLM land, which consists of a road trailing off into the sagebrush. It is obviously a much better area to run the dogs. We wanted to explore the Gunnison Conservation Area, and so did not stop there.

Half the fun of living in Colorado is exploring its’ varied geology. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the routes to and from it, are a great place to see erosion, sedimentation, and volcanism. All this education in the guise of stunning views just can’t be beat.

1 comment:

colorado west outdoors said...

Thanks for the write up on the North Rim, I've been to Black Canyon numerous times but have never visited the "other side". It's on my ever growing list now.