Traveling Silver on the edge

Traveling Silver at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

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.

#publiclandsworthprotecting #publiclandsinpublichands

This ain’t New Mexico’s Rio Grande!

 

Soft water on the Rio GrandeTraveling Silver followed the Silver Thread Scenic Highway from South Fork CO, through the old mining town of Creede, ending at Gunnison.  Our goal was to explore the Rio Grande National Forest along the way.  About halfway up the Silver Thread, we made our way in to Thirty Mile Campground and set camp right on the rocky bank of the Rio Grande River.  This is a river that does not resemble the Rio Grande we know in southern New Mexico, where the river creeps between its banks, sneaks underground,  and slips along acequias to water patches of chiles and groves of pecan trees.  This Rio Grande jumps rocks, digs flash holes and flows wild; it talks in loud voices of rumbles and burbles.  We found ourselves about 18 miles from the headwaters of the Rio Grande, starting appropriately on the northern flank of Rio Grande Pyramid Mt at 13,000+ feet.  The river remains untamed by the series of reservoirs that capture some of its water, but none of its spirit.

The forest here is decimated by beetle kill and a few old fire scars.  You can tell the difference.  Fire scars turned aspens into sticks right along with the firs.  Beetle kill stripped the fir of their leaves, leaving the aspen relatively green.  Entire mountainsides of brown sticks.  Seems to be a common pestilence phenom across the Colorado forests.  And yet, while on one side of the valley in which we camped the trees looked like porcupine quills, the other side along with the riverside was verdant with exclamation marks of firs.  Upon closer note, other punctuafir marks: there was the comma at the top of a fir where the trunk must have grown around an errant cloud; there were the pair of parentheses trunks that enclosed a fair piece of blue sky.  Along the river course, firs leaned in to better hear the language of the rapids.

Our campground was shared with an overabundance of chipmunks, ground and tree squirrels.  Fat. Direct. Jump-on-your-table bold. Deer so acclimated to people, they walked through campsites trailing their spotted fawns or waving their growing spikes.  Thirty Mile was cared for by a marvelous couple, camp hosts extraordinaire.  The only drawback for us flatlanders who live at a measly 6,000 feet elevation was that we became over-elevated.  Thirty Mile is at 9,300, rather like going from sea level to Denver and trying to hike a few miles. We weren’t there long enough to get acclimated and, sadly, left with the same niggling headache and mild nausea we arrived with.

Up and over the pass, we stopped at an overlook that took in the valley leading up along the Rio Grande to and beyond the campgrounds and reservoirs, all the way up to the headwaters.

Headwaters Rio Grande River, Rio Grande Natl Forest
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