While we were in Grand Lake, Colorado, Celia decided to return to Wilmington, NC to see her Dad who made a trip to the hospital unexpectedly. We found that the airport in Montrose, Colorado had comparable prices to some of the larger airports so we decided to continue west instead of backtracking to Denver from Grand Lake.
Montrose is a surprisingly large town and it had an Elks Lodge where we could stay. It is near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and famous mountain towns such as Telluride and Ouray. It is located in what Colorado calls the “Western Slope” which is anything in the state west of the Continental Divide. While these Western Slope towns are mainly winter destinations, the summers offer hiking, jeeping, beautiful scenery, and somewhat cooler weather.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is only about a 25 minute drive from Montrose but feels like a world away. The Gunnison River has carved a tremendous gorge in the surrounding mesa that at points is over 2000 feet deep.
One of the key features of the park are the ancient lava flows that have been intruded into the rock and then crystallized. Over the centuries this harder rock has remained leaving “fin like” formations in the canyon.
Like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Black Canyon is accessed by a ridge top road that has short trails to view points. It is possible to hike down to the river itself over unmaintained trails that require a free backcountry travel permit.
There are several trails that stay near the rim itself. Once you begin hiking any of the trails, the number of people around you is greatly reduced. I hiked the Oak Flat Trail and the Warner Point Trail. The latter hike had especially nice view points.
The lookouts along the South Rim Road have names such as Pulpit Rock, Painted Wall, and Chasm View. Most are very easy to reach via short walks to a viewpoint. Most all have a view of the mighty Gunnison River below and impressive rock formations. The gorge is so narrow that the water rushes with tremendous force through the canyon. So strong is the current that for many years the gorge was thought to be impossible to explore. Even from 2000 feet up, the roar of the river is ever present.
The gorge is deep but not that wide and you can sometimes see visitors on the North Rim. To visit the northern side of the park by car takes over two hours because of the lack of roads and bridges to traverse the gorge.
It is wonderful to have the freedom to be able to take some extra time to visit a fascinating place like this National Park and the town of Montrose makes it easy to do. With the towering San Juan Mountains to the south and the National Park in its backyard, it is a good central location to do some exploring. In fact the tourism tag line for the town is “Stay here, Play everywhere.”
Next are visits to the beautiful mountain towns of Ouray and Telluride for some hiking.