From Gunnison, you have two choices. You can follow the South Rim of the Black Canyon and visit the official visitors center, the drives and the overlooks and end up in Montrose CO. There are campgrounds and ranger-led walks. And LOTS of people. Or you can wend and wind your way up the North Rim. Breath-taking, literally. Edgy, again literally. Almost no people. Those that are making this trek, are driving slowly, as much to avoid becoming part of the view as to enjoy the view. It would be so easy, with a little too much speed in a large vehicle, to get first-hand experience at just how sheer and deep those canyon walls are. This passenger was, fortunately, on the mountain side rather than the canyon side. Still, full disclosure here, I was jelly and squish from vertigo. Made it a little hard at times to enjoy the ride.
Still and all, I wouldn’t have missed it. Those that knew the choices, encouraged us to take the North Rim and I’m glad we did. Coming breathless down the other side, we landed in Crawford State Park, which not coincidentally is just a mile from Black Canyon Rd, the only road that goes up to the North Rim ranger station, campground and drive. This road to the rim is deceptive; it’s one that sets you wondering what the first Europeans thought when driving a team and wagon across the mesa to suddenly and abruptly come to the edge of the world.
Once on the rim, there are a couple of terrific hikes. We took the one that leads to Exclamation Point, and further to the top of Green Mountain. Just beyond the trailhead, we passed the sign for the boundary of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness, a 15,000+ acre wilderness that protects the canyon rim-to-rim for 14 miles and is contiguous with the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness to the north.
Exclamation Point is a comfortable 3 mile round trip along edges (I’m much better on foot than in a vehicle when the land drops away) and through the trees. At the point, beggars await a handout with alert ears and twitching noses. There is a rim drive as well that offers several overlooks with railing and information boards. The walls of the canyon are so close in some spots that you can see and be seen from the overlooks on the South Rim. If someone was looking north with binoculars, they would probably see you wave.
Black Canyon defies description, for all that I’ve tried to describe the experience of driving and hiking a bit of it. It’s deep, yes. Jagged and raw, indeed. Definitely black — dark for lack of light and due to the geological makeup. It roars with the voice of the Gunnison River in its depths. These are inadequate things to say about a ditch that would have inspired Dante. You kind of have to get on the edge yourself.