The weather was warm and sunny when we woke up, but there were black clouds and storms rolling in by the time we left. We could see rain falling in the distance, but managed to avoid it for most of the drive. The area around the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Black Canyon National Park is sparsely inhabited. We crossed several small towns and ranches irrigated by the Gunnison River, picturesque spots of land with a spectacular backdrop. It started to rain as we entered a beautiful canyon with one of the tributaries of the Gunnison. After stocking up on groceries in , we entered Curecanti National Recreation Area, a vast area of reservoirs created by the dammed Gunnison River and beautiful cliffs. We finally arrived in the park in the late afternoon, passing some cyclists on the way in. I immediately loved the park, it was green and lush. The campground was rugged and there were warnings everywhere about black bear sightings. We built a campfire, but he wood we had just purchased was too humid to burn well. We managed to cook a couple of hot dogs and warm up before bed. We were camping at 8,300 feet and the night was cold.
The next morning, we started with a nature hike along the canyon rim to the Visitors Center. The gorge is narrow and drops 2,700 feet to the river. The river’s flow is so powerful, you can hear it from some places on the rim. To continue our visit of the park, we hiked back to the campground and picked up our car. The distances are too long to visit everything on foot- it’s actually a perfect place to bike, and there was a bike ride going on in the park that day. Since we don’t have bikes, we took the car to the numerous scenic viewpoints. At the end of the road, we hiked out to Warner Point, a beautiful site that offers views of long stretches of the river and of the plateau and agricultural lands on the opposite side. We finished the day with a sunset hike out to see the canyon. I was on bear watch, but unfortunately didn’t spot any.
The following morning, we hiked from the rim down to the river. This was a “wilderness experience,” being that there wasn’t a maintained trail. We had to follow a wash down the canyon with a number of rocky precipices. In one area, there was a metal chain to help us get down over loose rock. This wasn’t a hike for the faint of heart, and required a special permit from the ranger, but the views were fantastic and the river impressive. Unlike the Colorado River, which is green when it flows through the Grand Canyon, this river was brown from all of the mud and debris it’s carrying out of the mountains. We spent about 45 minutes sitting by the river, taking in the sights and sounds before climbing back up. The ranger was surprised to see that we had done the trail so quickly which was some consolation for the huffing and puffing I did all the way back up.
We rewarded ourselves with a picnic lunch and then continued on our mountainous adventure towards Ouray, Colorado.
Tags: BIG TRIP 2011, Colorado FR, In English 2005-2006