Third Trip, Part 3: Taking the Silver Thread West to the Black Canyon

Head West. The thought just makes me smile. Pushing further west on my journey means I’m getting close and closer to such American wonderlands such as Zion, The Grand Canyon and Yosemite. There’s still more to see before those parks for me here in Colorado, I had my sites set on the mighty Black Canyon on the Gunnison River. This was a park I hadn’t heard much of before my trip, the name alone makes it intriguing. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park strikes a certain feeling of power coming from such a mighty Canyon.

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The route so far
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The route so far

I first had to cross the mighty San Luis Mountains first. I made my journey West across the San Luis plain just outside the Great Sand Dunes, crossing a vast expanse of dusty desert to the base of the mountains.

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View of the San Luis vegetation type and bonus sand dunes

Fortunately crossing these plains is a simple matter as the roads are straight and fast unlike the Mountain roads you get so accustomed to driving out here. Making my way into the valley I stopped in a town called Crede to watch the Packers game (Go Packers!). When I awoke in town the next morning I realized what a beautiful area for a city.

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Right in Credes back yard

The town used to be an old mining town but now focuses mostly on tourism. I was just happy to find a place to catch the game and got some great views to go with it. Lucky me.

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Pushing past Crede led to a full day of driving through varied Mountain landscapes. Highway 149 or the so called “Silver Thread” highway is a scenic by way through some of the most beautiful Mountain country in the lower 48. The changes in elevation bring everything from Aspen trees changing color, Rocky outcroppings, desert like underbrush and much more. This also used to be an old mining boom area when prospectors came here in search of gold and silver, hence the name of the Silver Thread byway.

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View of : insert: Lake

Photosphere Shot:

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View of the San Luis Mountains and leaf color changes

Red, orange and yellow blaze past the windshield of the car as I press West. The views of these Mountains deserve much exploration, but I grow impatient with my progress West so I press on towards the Black Canyon. Passing through the nearby Curecanti National Recreation area I grew restless and needed to get out of the car for a few hours so I turned off the road and headed for the best trail I could find: Dillon Pinnacles.

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Part of the Massive Reservoir/Lake

The Pinnacles are a peculiar Rock formation, formed millions of years ago when South Central Colorado was the site of considerable volcanic activity. The formation of denser stronger rock allowed it to survive the nearby rock couldn’t and it the resulting rock formations tickle the imagination.

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Part of Dillon Pinnacles
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Panoramic of the Pinnacles with the Lake

Photosphere: insert photosphere!

After I had my fill of volcanic activity rocks for one night I knew my destination was close. I still could not stop myself from getting out at two more spots along the way. Stopping at the (blank dam) and the (blank dam). Both were exhibits in stunning, craggly Canyon that were but a preview of things to come.

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After I diverted myself for the last time I took one final turn on the road with the sign pointing towards the Black Canyon.

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Finally!

The day was short though and it was too late to see anything in the park anyways so I headed towards the campground when my attention was grabbed by a spectacular sunset.

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Sunset at the Black Canyon

The next morning I awoke with one thought in mind. I need to climb down into this canyon. I made my way to the first overlook before the visitors center where I would devise my route. I took my time gazing into the canyon for the first time.

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View of the Black Canyon from Timochi Point

The people at the visitors center recommended the Gunnison route. The easiest or at least the most convenient way to get into the canyon.

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Last chance to turn around!

The “climb” down into the canyon is more like a controlled slide to the bottom. The route is steep and poorly marked, it’s easy to lose your way on the return trip.

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Chain to assist you on the non trail

The rocks shift with every movement of your feet on them. The ground unwilling to sit still, it stirs almost angrily at every compression upon its surface. Fortunately I was wise enough to bring trekking poles on the trip down, almost as a necessity to have a means by which to catch yourself if your feet slip (and they did and will).

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View of the Canyon on the way down
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Part of the trail, it's a little rough

I passed another man who was recording how long it took him to get down and then up, he was on 36 minutes his way up. Intrigued I wanted to see how long the rest trip down took, mind you I must’ve been around half way down at this point.

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About half the time it took to get down

It took 48 minutes down where it had taken him to get up in 36. The hike down is more like a controlled fall. Trying to stop gravity from sending tumbling down the hill. Most of the way down is an exercise in balance and keeping your feet underneath you. However, your effort is rewarded– the views at the bottom do much to astound.

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Staring up from the bottom of the 1800 foot Canyon makes you realize how small you really are. Here you sit as but a tiny observer in a massive powerful canyon. The Canyon is formed of incredibly hard rocks over a billion years old in some. The Gunnison upheaval over a billion years ago put these rocks here and only in the last two million years has the mighty Gunnison River been cutting into the land. The result is a sharp, steep, stunning canyon that boggles the mind.

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From the bottom of the canyon

Photosphere of the bottom: insert here

Sitting in the bottom of this Valley of incredibly formed rocks is quite the experience, walking around and eating a quick lunch by the river, and having the entire area just to myself was such a calming experience.

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Rocks from the bottom

The only problem is what must go down must go up, if I want to get out of the Canyon. I decided to time how long it took me to get out as well, just for hecks sake. I headed for the path again and dug in up the side of the Canyon. The way back is indeed hard to know, if not for the helpful cairns people have made it almost would’ve been impossible to know the way out.

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I sure hope this is the right way!

Fortunately slipping isn’t too big a problem on the way up. The main challenge is pushing your weight up the steep, slippery rocks to get to the top. It’s a massive cardiovascular challenge, especially in this thin air. I had to stop a few times to get my bearings and let my lungs rest. I also stopped for a nice break/conversation with another hiker headed into the Canyon. As I finally reached the top of the Canyon route I checked my time:

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Certainly better than what it took to hike down.

Taking a few minutes to regroup after the arduous hike, I headed down the road, South Rim road to be exact. The road passes several beautiful overlooks with stellar views of the Canyon.

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Long way down, over 1800 feet
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View into the Canyon
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Painted Wall from the Painted Wall Overlook

Looking out over and into the Black Canyon is awe inspiring. The depth is so deep and steep the straight drop offs are cringe worthy and vertigo inducing.  The rocks spire and craggle in such shapes it’s hard to fathom such things could actually exist.

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Gulp.

Heading to the final overlook you approach the Warner Point Trail. The trail only covers 1.75 miles round trip; I approached at sunset. The views were quite something, I arrived thinking I’d only see Canyon but I was pleasantly surprised.

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View of the meadows outside the park
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View of the nearby Mountains

The other scenery was icing on the cake to the already amazing Canyon that’s the star of the park. As the day drew to a close I realized I had picked the perfect sunset, I watched as the sun sank behind the horizon and ended my adventure with the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

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I listened to Alt J All of This Is Yours and Childish Gambino Because The Internet while writing this.

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