The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Day 5 Soundtrack:

Morning - Elton John, Greatest Hits

Afternoon - Real Estate, Atlas

Evening - Spiritualized, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light

Late Evening - Bob Dylan, Modern Times

Day 6 Soundtrack:

Nature sounds while on the trail.

 

Snow trudging break. Not a bad view. 

Snow trudging break. Not a bad view. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison has been my favourite place so far (and I'm writing this after visiting several parks since we were there).

Before getting to the park, I wanted to cover a couple things. There are both advantages and disadvantages to hiking the National Parks in the winter time.

Let's start with the disadvantages:

1. Many of the trails and roads are closed - The North Rim of Black Canyon is closed in the winter months, and the South Rim Road that runs the length of the park is closed to vehicles and converted into a snowshoe/cross-country ski trail. The trail is over 14miles though, which was a bit further than we planned on snowshoeing in one day.

2. Lots of snow! The campsites at Black Canyon are not plowed/maintained through the winter - no running water, and when we arrrived there was ~2ft of snow where our tent should go, and no real place to sit around the firepit. We ended up sleeping in the van.

Overlooking the canyon. 

Overlooking the canyon. 

But the advantages FAR outweigh the drawbacks.

1. FEWER PEOPLE!! We were the only people camping at Black Canyon, both nights, and we passed all of ZERO people on our 5 hour snowshoe trek. In the summer time the parks are full, but the peace and silence of solitude was part of the magic of Black Canyon for me.

2. Winter Sky. The sky at the top of the canyon is so dark, that on a clear night, you can see almost 7500 stars (three times the normal amount seen in the average park). Black Canyon was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2015 - the first night we spent there we lay on the picnic table and watched the stars come out all around us.

3. Lots of snow! I know I said this was a disadvantage (and sometimes it feels that way), but it also allowed many awesome opportunities. The rangers at the Black Canyon Visitor Centre lent us snowshoes for the day, and we were able to hike down partway into the canyon on the Oak Flat Loop trail before winding back up and breaking ground across the rim. The snow also fills in all the craggy nooks and crannies, adding an additional layer of information for the eye to see.

Winter trekking. 

Winter trekking. 

4. Fewer people = more wildlife. Thanks to the quiet of the trails and roads, on a single day we were able to spot more than 20 mule deer, a handful of elk, tons of birds, and a fox.

5. Free stuff. In the winter many of the campsites are free (Black Canyon is one of them) or they offer off-season rates. Also, sometimes the park entrance fees are waived (as was also the case with Black Canyon).

The depths. 

The depths. 

"Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combine the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon." - Duane Vandenbusche

The Black Canyon, as seen from the Oak Flat Loop Trail.  

The Black Canyon, as seen from the Oak Flat Loop Trail.  

Black Canyon gets its name from the fact that some areas of the canyon receive only 33 minutes of sunlight per day - for most of the day the canyon is cast in shadow, appearing black. It is the 5th steepest range in North America, and its vastness simply cannot be caught on camera. This is definitely one of the spots that must be seen in real life to be appreciated.

Sneaking out to the edge.  

Sneaking out to the edge.  

There was a sombreness to the canyon - I could have looked into its depths for days. Staring into it from above, you couldn't help but feel its solemn presence. I will most definitely return here - I hope to one day hike down into the depths and experience the canyon from its heart, and hear the rushing sound of the Gunnison River echo in the dark around me.

Out on the rim.
Out on the rim.

After our long hike through deep snow, we had tortellini over the fire and were in bed by 5. Early to bed, early to rise. 

Colorado flora. 

Colorado flora.