The Black Canyon of the Gunnison wasn’t even really on our radar when we started to plan. But in reading various blogs, Facebook posts and some other research, it became a stop of it’s own, if only because it was a good halfway point between RMNP and our next stop at Moab.
We’re glad we checked it out…even if we were only there for a short time, relatively speaking. We pulled in on Wednesday after a crazy trip on I 70 to the Western Slope from RMNP…I 70 brought us down (and I mean DOWN) onto the other side of the mountains…Mark said it really wasn’t bad to drive, but from the passenger seat it was a whole ‘nother story…there were plenty of times I just had to look away because I was sure we were going to go off the road and roll down the side of a mountain. It brought us through some pretty towns, and some beautiful scenery, but…yowsa. Maybe in a car…but in a 30 foot RV…yikes.
We once again, relied on some research and Facebook posts, and found a campground that had space for us at the Uncompaghre RV Park in Olathe CO, just outside Grand Junction. Say that one 5 times fast…it took me a day or two to get it straight in my head, that’s for sure. It was about 30 minutes to the Gunnison, and tucked back in a residential area…which was fine. Clean and well kept…our timing was such that it was going to bring us into the park about ½ hour later than the office closed, so we called them—we expected them to tell us which site to pull into and to stop by the office in the morning…but they were more than cordial….and told us they’d wait and lead us in….and that they did. We settled in, had supper, and although sporadic, had cell/internet and cable TV..
Thursday morning dawned and it was time to go explore The Black Canyon of the Gunnison…it’s a small-ish National Park, but what a difference in the landscape here compared to others we’ve seen….the canyon itself is immense, and it’s easy to see the difference—the rocks are craggier and sharper and compared to the Grand Canyon, it’s narrower and appears even deeper. At one pull off spot at what’s called the painted wall, we read that the depth of that one face is TWICE as high as the Empire State Building..even with railings and fences, it was a stretch to get too close to the edge(s) for fear the land was just going to give way under your feet. We stopped at all the lookouts, and each one was as awe-inspiring as the previous one. As one of my friends on FB said…even the pictures can’t do some places justice because they can’t even begin to capture the depth. And that’s true! And we got yet another “bonus” when we stopped at the visitors center—Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an International Dark Sky Park, meaning that it “is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner(s) consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation.” SCORE!!! So, we did some reconnaissance on which lookouts would be the best for night sky photography…but before really deciding our plan of attack, we took a ride to another part of the park, the East Portal. The East Portal is what brings you down to the bottom of the canyon….and is another of those roads that switchbacks and seems to be going into the center of the earth with some of the grades you’re on… Once at the bottom, it gives way to some wonderful views of the river and the dam that is there, and at one time in history was a thriving little town, filled with workers (and their families) that were building the dam on the Gunnison River in hopes to divert the waters to the farms further down the valley…so it was kind of it’s own “metropolis” for a time…
Once we “climbed” back out of the bottom of the canyon, and went back to the campground, we started checking the sky charts and weather to see if it would be a good night to do some night sky….and as is always the case, the best laid plans….we decided to go out later, after moon set, rather than earlier. So off we went at 3am…and although it was a clear night, the moon was still too bright and drowned out most of the stars….even after it set, the milky way had set before the moon, so it was kind of “meh”. Came back a few hours later to the RV and went back to bed.
Once we got up on Friday, we had some errands to run—groceries, and even though we were going RV’g, I had had my nails done before we left SC and they were now a mess with grow out and chips, etc. So we found a salon and I had them cut waaay back and squared off…the grow out had been bad enough that I was having trouble with the camera controls and changing some settings, so it was mission critical to get them cared for. Silly, I know, but…
Once our errands were done and some odds n ends around the RV, it was time to go visit. Our friend Gary in SC has a daughter, Rachael, who lives with her husband and 2 kids in Grand Junction, and we’d promised Gary we’d go visit…..it was great to see Rachael and Jessie, but even more fun and exciting to finally meet their kids, Wyatt (3) and Ellie (4 months). Our original plan was to take them to dinner, but Wyatt was “napless” and was fading fast. We had a nice visit, and Rachael recommended a great Mexican restaurant, so Mark and I left and went there for dinner….great dinner, great recommend.
Back to the RV for the night, and the next day found us on the road to one of our favorites, Moab, Utah, to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks….