Thursday, August 20, 2015

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Unfortunately the northern back country of Colorado was covered by a smokey haze yesterday when we drove west from Grand Junction to see this park.  It is coming down from the wild fires in Washington, weather reports claim this may clear up in another day or so.   We still had a great day during our visit to the Black Canyon.  It is one of our newer national parks (1999), but it has been a national monument since 1930.  The first explorers here in 1870 claimed the canyon "inaccessible and foreboding".  The first men exploring the canyon wrecked their two wooden boats on the Gunnison River which flows through the canyon.   Characteristic of the river then was that it was fast flowing and debris-laden with rocks and other sediment..   Of course, the river has, over time, carved out the beautiful canyon we see today.
The canyon is black because a lot of it is in shadows, and also because the river first started its course over volcanic rock.  It is one of the greatest canyons in North America because of its combination of depth, steepness and narrowness.  Its steep walls range in depth from 1750 to 2,700 feet.  At its narrowest point it is a quarter of a mile across.   Painted Cliff is 2,000 feet high- the Empire State building, if place on the canyon floor, would only come to half of the wall's height.  The cliff is the tallest in Colorado.
One thing which intrigued me about this canyon is in some places it sparkles, or is crystalline.  After the volcano occurred many years ago, molten rock squeezed into fissures forming the light-colored bands which thread the canyon's dark walls.  As the hot fluid slowly cooled and hardened minerals formed and crystallized.   Flecks of mica, feldspar, quartz, and perhaps even garnet can be found in those light-colored bands seen in the picture above.  Information provided by park interpretive signs.
After we had made quite a few stops along the rim of the canyon viewing its unique features, we were ready to drive down into the canyon and explore its riverside area.  I apologize for the poor quality of pictures here- between the haze and the fact that it is a black canyon, my camera seemed to do a poor job of capturing the beauty of this park!

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