Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Location: northeast of Montrose, Colorado
Date: August 18, 2011

The Painted Wall

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado encompasses the most dramatic section of the Gunnison River's descent from the Rocky Mountains to its confluence with the Colorado River.  The Black Canyon is a very narrow and steep canyon that the Gunnison River rapidly descends through.  The canyon itself is as few as 40 feet wide at river level, while the Painted Wall, the highest sheer cliff in Colorado, rises 2,250 feet above the river.

Black Canyon

The park is most easily accessed from the south side of the canyon, but a few facilities are open on the north side during the summer.  The South Rim road travels along the canyon rim for a few miles, leading to several viewpoints.  There are few trails mileage-wise on the south side with most leading short distances to overlooks.

The lower section of Black Canyon

The canyon formed as the very hard rock of the surrounding area was uplifted and cut by fast-moving water.  The river is one of the steepest in North America, losing on average 96 feet per mile in the park (compared to the Colorado River's 7.5 ft/mi in the Grand Canyon) and up to 250 feet per mile in sections.  In 48 miles the Gunnison River loses more elevation than the Mississippi river does across its entire length.

Black Canyon

The plants and animals of the area are typical of those of the Colorado Plateau's pinyon-juniper woodlands.  Downstream of the park, the canyon is protected in the Bureau of Land Management's Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area.  Upstream is Curecanti National Recreation Area, where three dams form two small reservoirs and one large reservoir.  Rock climbing and river running are popular activities in the park.

Black Canyon

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