9800 Highway 347
Montrose, CO 81401
One of the worst parts of visiting Black Canyon of Gunnison State Park is the drive-in. My wife and I left Golden, CO, and drove west and south, through ski country and gorgeous mountain roads. We skirted around Salida and the 25,000 people attending the Mumford & Sons concert and stopped for excellent Thai spring rolls at the corner of Hwy 50 and Hwy 285 (say hi to Nopalong if you stop in). We continued driving west again over Monarch Pass and several other white-knuckle passes through incredibly changing and ever more beautiful terrain.
When the road settled down, we drifted past cattle ranches, the odd herd of goats, and what looked like wooly yaks. Gassed up in Gunnison, then were surprised once more when we saw endless miles of blue water framed by carved walls of rocks. A long bridge spanned the water for a breathtaking view.
This photo was taken at a stopping point at Blue Mesa Reservoir on the way to our campground on the South Rim.
The trek to the North Rim is more than a 3-hour drive, so we stayed on the South Rim in Campground Loop B. Loops A and C were filled with tent campers, and only Loop B had electric hookups. We toted in our water and waited to dump at the next campground. The campsites quickly became my all-time favorite layout. Pull-ins and back-in sites lined both sides of the loop, but they were separated by shady clumps of trees that reminded me of crape myrtles but were a different, high elevation species.
Plenty of birds flitted in and out which was sweet, but then we were plagued by yellow jackets. While grilling up hamburgers on the second night, a swarm surrounded the grill until we bravely brought our half-cooked burgers indoors to finish up in the microwave. Two does and their fawns calmly chewed grass at a neighboring campsite, not bothered by the family packing up their gear 30 feet away.
At my wife’s urging, I opted to be in the moment and not take photos during our unbelievably spectacular hikes. My favorite hike was from High Point (the last pullout on the paved road) to Warner Point. The height of the cliff tops and depths of the canyon was so great, that my old fear of heights came back to warn me away from the edge. Families with babies in backpacks and strollers got closer to the edge than I dared.
Later that afternoon, we wanted to hear Forest Ranger, Derek, talk about the creation of a 6-mile water tunnel that was blasted through the mountain between East Portal and the town of Montrose, CO. We weren’t sure how to get to the ranger station at East Portal, but followed a brown park sign past some gates and cattle guards and down a narrow, winding, 16% grade road for half an hour before we arrived at the site. The talk was quite interesting, describing the town that 250 inhabitants created in a desolate location. The road used to be gravel and at a 33% grade until it was paved in the ’60s.
Too tired to attend the late-night talk in the amphitheater, we built a bonfire and rested for a bit. There was no cell or data service at the campground, which was a welcome relief for a few days. I was glad to be there with my wife and to explore this incredible area of Colorado with him. The drive back through to Salida was just as challenging as before, and I had blisters on my palms from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. But this trip was well worth the drive.