May 25, 2010

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Located in West-Central Colorado, just north of the San Juan Mountains and just east of Grand Junction is an amazing geological feature. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a 2000 foot deep chasm carved into ancient metamorphic and volcanic rocks by the Gunnison River.

The area is relatively flat until you reach the edge of this gaping abyss down below. It is a beautiful area to hike along the rim. But, we could not possibly visit such a site without actually going down into the heart of it.

The rocks are 1.7 Billion year old Pre-cambian Schist and Gneiss with white volcanic dikes that dissect it. Those dikes are obvious in the image above. In addition, the formations have been heavily tilted to near vertical by the tectonic forces that raised the Rocky Mountains.

So, we went into the visitor's center and asked if there was a way down there. They told us there was. They call it a "route" as opposed to a "trail" because basically you clamour and climb all the way, dropping 2000 feet in just one mile. But, that it was not "technical" and thus would not require any special equipment. So, we tied Maile to the campsite picnic table and headed off early in the morning for this adventure.

The "route" down, which consisted of mostly loose boulders and sections of chains

The spires from the bottom

Jeff and Linda along the Gunnison River

2000 foot wall of vertically tilted metamorphic rock

Here curved volcanic dikes show the tectonic pressures placed on the rocks

Oh yeah, we had to climb back out. Looking at the images above, I am sure you are wondering how we could possibly have done it. Well, here is the route we took looking back up. Essentially, it was a landslide that left enough talus to climb up. But, to think it essentially took us an entire day to only go 2 miles, that will give you an idea of the difficulty of this route.

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