A Travellerspoint blog

Desert Wanderings - Black Canyon of the Gunnison

sunny 28 °C

Our trip comes to a close with a trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Researching the routes and scenic byways in and around Colorado takes a bit of work, especially when you are towing your RV. We knew that at some point, if we were this far north, we’d have to go across the Continental Divide and the Rockies. Hwy 550 goes North/South and is called the Million Dollar Highway. It is widely traveled by vacationers and truckers alike. It boasts some of the highest elevations and does not have many guardrails but the scenery is amazing, if you dare to take your eyes off the road.

We did not take the Million Dollar Highway. Instead, we opted for Hwy 145 and Hwy 62 which weaves back and forth and follows the San Miguel River and then Leopard Creek through mountain valleys much of the way. What a beautiful drive! And so much to do from rafting trips, to quaint little towns and markets. We definitely want to return to this area to spend more time. We did need to make that ultimate climb up to 11,000ft and over the Continental Divide and its always a fun drive with staggering views made better because the truck traffic was lighter today.

We made our way to Montrose, Colorado which was our last home base. We stayed at the KOA. KOA’s are sometimes expensive for what we use of their facilities but they are always predictably clean and safe.

We sent the next morning exploring the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This canyon, nestled inside the Rockies Mountains range, has a geology all of its own. It contains some of the oldest exposed metamorphic rock in the world. About 60 million years ago, a small area of land uplifted, bringing 1.8 billion year old metamorphic rock to high elevations. This is called the Gunnison Uplift. Then, about 30 million years ago, large volcanoes erupted on either side of this uplift, burying it in volcanic rock. The Gunnison River began flowing with force around 2 millions years ago which eroded away the volcanic rock and cut a deep canyon in the metamorphic rock.


The black canyon walls are actually very colourful. Without taking in the scale of the walls which are 2250 ft tall, you might think you are looking at an elaborate marble countertop with deep graining. Great pressure and heat created the different metamorphic rock which are called schist and gneiss. 1.8 billion years ago. While still buried deep in the Earth, magma squeezed into the schist and gneiss, 1.4 to 1.7 billion years ago. As it cooled, minerals grew and formed the igneous rocks that bring vibrant colour accents to the canyon walls.


There are several short hikes out to see different points of the canyon walls, none more than about ½ a mile long.


A permit is needed for any hikes that go into the canyon itself. Rock climbing is permitted with a permit as well. We took a drive down to the bottom of the canyon where the Gunnison River begins its route through the canyon. The East Portal Rd is open only in the summer because it has 16% grades and curves and twists. It was quite a drive! Not long but VERY steep and the pay off at the bottom was worth it.


We now head home from Montrose, Colorado to Ontario. It will take us 5 days, traveling 7-8 hours a day. Its always bittersweet to find ourselves making the drive home. We recount what places we would want to come back and explore more and which routes we haven’t taken yet. Lots of ideas and trips to plan.


Posted by blgracey 01:21 Archived in USA

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