The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Colorado – one of my favorite states (having lived in Colorado Springs years ago and my sister graduating from college in Greely, Co). However, Barb had never been to the state. Here’s the evidence that she finally made it!


The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! Never heard of it? Unsurprising. This is a hidden gem of the National Park System. The park can be found in Colorado between Montrose and Gunnison on CO50. though, one could hardly hide a canyon that is 2,700 feet deep – think nearly vertical walls here – and narrows to 40’ apart.

Sure, other canyons make this one look pretty small, but there are no other canyons that are as dramatically cut into hard rock. The Gunnison river, looking like a tiny green ribbon from the rim, drops an average 95 feet per mile through the 48 mile long canyon. The Park encompasses 14 miles of that length and the Visitors Center and road are on the South rim.

In one two mile stretch the river drops 480’. Perspective – this 48 mile canyon looses more elevation than the 1500 mile long Mississippi River. That drop and the speed of the water swirling particles of sand carved the canyon so deep and neatly that this place is dizzying and unique.

There are none of those effete glass barriors, high railings or protective rangers dotted along the rim one finds in more grand canyons. This place is still rough and real. A road follows the rim of the canyon through the park and turnouts lead to rim trails. A few interpretive panels and some meagre railings suffice to tell the tale and warn the daring to stay back. Easily stepped over or walked around, I’m sure some just have to get right out there on the cut edge. Mostly, it was easy to walk to the edge unimpeded; it was a windy day, so everyone seemed to be taking extra care. (Me, 3′ from the edge there…heh, heh, heh)

Note: the Park is in the International Dark Sky Network. During their busy season (stopped in late Sept.) they hold Astronomy programs.

We drove into Gunnison, CO and had lunch at an amazing place. Think of where we are, maybe look at a map – this is mountain country. We luckily read about Pemba and Jangmu Sherpa who came from Nepal and started three businesses here in the US, while we were doing our laundry.

They have two restaurants both called the Sherpa Cafe. One in Crested Butte and one in Gunnison. The restaurant we went to is unassuming and easily missed but for the strings of bright Tibetan Prayer Flags flying over and around the patio dining area and entrance. The other business Pemba Sherpa has takes him back to his home country guiding American’s on Annapurna and Mt. Everest – the big mountains!

Barb had a huge (healing) bowl of vegetable broth and chicken dumplings packed with veggies and we shared a Garlic Naan and I had an appetizer plate with hummus, vegetable momos, Samosa, Sherpa Roll & Panir Pakora. Good food that we took home and had for lunch a couple days later.

We also spent time in the Gunnison Public Library using their internet and enjoying the teenagers doing homework at the other tables and computers. This library lends telescopes, with instruction! Celebrate Dark Skies!


After we exhausted the area, we continued South, passing Telluride and making our way up Lizard Head Pass – 10,222’. Crawling along the uphill winding road at 20 mph we could only imagine what the ride down would be like. Turns out the ride down was long and not terribly steep, phew. I’m including a picture I took on that drive that looks like en Plein Aire (a painting class being taught at one of the parks we’ve passed through).


We rode through Cortez on the way to Mancos and the (commercial) Mesa Verde RV Resort – again the Park campgrounds had turned off their services and freezing temps were forecast (we are getting tired of seeing that home is still in the 80’s and we are wearing out our few cold weather clothes!).