Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park displays the handiwork that took the Gunnison River two million years to create. The canyon extends 48 miles, with 12 miles being within the park, although the park contains the steepest and most dramatic section of the canyon. It derives there name "Black Canyon" from that fact that parts of the deep gorge receive only 33 minutes of sunlight each day.
The namesake Gunnison River drops 34 feet per mile through the entire canyon, making it the fifth steepest mountain descent in North America. Its greatest descent is 240 feet per mile at Chasm View. By comparison, the heralded huge rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon drop an average of 7.5 feet per mile.
It became a national monument in 1933 and a national park in 1999. In the 1903s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the North Rim Road. 250,000 visitors a year enjoy the park.
The local Ute Indians knew of the canyon though they avoided it due to superstition. They referred to it as "big rocks, much water." By the time we declared independence from England in 1776, two Spanish expeditions had already passed by the canyon. The first official account of the canyon was by Captain John Williams Gunnison in 1853 as he led an exploration searching for a route from St. Louis to San Francisco. He skirted the canyon to the south, and after his death at the hands of the Ute Indians later that year, the river was named in his honor. The photo below shows the Rim Road.
In 1882, a railroad was completed at the bottom of 15 miles of the canyon, and a team was sent deeper into the canyon to survey for a route through the entire canyon. Their planned 20 day trip took 68 days, after which the leader declared the canyon "impenetrable" though "spectacular."
The river can be reached by steep, unmaintained trails called routes or draws from both rims. Hikers are expected to find their own way and to be prepared to self-rescue in emergencies. These routes require about two hours to climb down and up to four hours to ascend.
I watched these two climbers from an overlook. All inner-canyon ascents/descents are strenuous and require Class 3 climbing skills.
The river and its class III to V rapids can be run by expert kayakers, but sections are impassable and require long, often dangerous portages.
The visitor center is in this log cabin atop the rim. The building is about 40 feet wide, the same width as the bottom of the canyon at The Narrows!
The canyon walls range from 2700 feet in depth to 1750 feet. The river's average fall of 95 feet per mile gives the river the energy needed to cut downward through the rock faster than erosion can widen the canyon.
I camped for several nights as I hiked and explored the park...
...and I was sharing my campsite with these fawns and their parents (or should I say they were sharing their home with me!) Each day they walked past my tent and table, even when I was sitting in my chair or at the table, unafraid of me but curious.