Montrose, Colorado, and Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park

Decision time had arrived. Our original plans were to hang around Mesa Verde for a few days or a week and then drop down into New Mexico, staying on the road until the first part of November. Except one of those life-happens-as-your-making-plans moments popped up on the day before we began our Summer 2018 Tour.

When my cardiologist broke the news that it was time to repair my weakened mitral heart valve, I thought I could push it off until April or May. After spending a month and a half on the road, I realized it was best to get the surgery over with as soon as possible. The worry hung over me like an anvil and I needed to get out from under it. We cut our trip short and turned the truck for home on September 9, 2018. But that didn’t mean we weren’t going to stop to see a few more sights along the way.

Preferring the back roads, we took the scenic route heading west on U.S. 24, making a left at U.S. 285 and continuing to U.S. 50 toward Montrose, Colorado, passing through Monarch Pass. The colorful hills and forests kept us alert during our 4-1/2 hour drive.

The hills begin their fall displays
San Isabel National Forest
Dillon Pinnacles and Gunnison River in Curecanti National Recreation Area

We checked in at Black Canyon KOA, a nice campground with large spots and plenty of shade trees. Our focus for staying in Montrose was to visit the Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park. Established as a national monument in 1933, Black Canyon became a national park on October 21, 1999.

South Rim

The park features a 7-mile road along the south rim with 12 overlooks where we found differing views of the canyon and the river 2,000 feet below. Some of the overlooks were more popular than others, especially with the tour buses. If we missed an overlook going one way, we caught it on the return trip.

Tomichi Point View toward the east
View from visitor center

While at the visitor center we noticed what looked like a natural bridge. When we asked one of the rangers about it, he said, no. Not a bridge. He had never seen it before and guessed the rock recently fell and wedged itself between the pillars. It was cool to think we were one of the first people to have seen this phenomenon.

I dub thee Fallen Rock Bridge

The Painted Wall was definitely a do-not-miss overlook. The cliff stands 2,250 feet above the river. The stripes on the wall consist of pegmatite, a type of granite containing quartz, feldspar, and mica.

Painted Wall with photographer
Painted Wall with Gunnison River
Spires in Black Canyon of the Gunnison

When we arrived at the High Point overlook, we were ready to stretch our legs on the 1-1/2 mile Warner Point Nature Trail. The pamphlet led us through pinyon pines, juniper, Douglas fir, and Gambel oak trees.

We kept our eye on the storm brewing across the valley. Luckily, it stayed east of us during our entire walk.

Keep eyes on any storm
View of Uncompahgre Valley from Warner Trail
View of Adobe Hills and Uncompahgre Valley from Warner Nature Trail
Warner Nature Trail – Fall is rushing in
Warner Nature Trail and greener pastures thanks to the Gunnison Tunnel

East Portal

The East Portal road is the access route to the Gunnison River, Gunnison Tunnel, Gunnison Diversion Dam, Crystal Dam, a campground, and picnic area. It sounds like a lot to see after reading that list, but everything is contained within about a mile, so not really. And a chainlink fence with concertina wire on top prevents anyone from getting near the Crystal Dam. Take note that the road includes a 16% grade and numerous switchbacks. Vehicles over 22 feet long are prohibited.

East Portal Road switchbacks

Water diverted from the Gunnison River flows through the Gunnison Tunnel, built between 1905 and 1909. I marvel at the engineering it must have taken to blast through rock to create the 11-foot by 12-foot tunnel 5.8 miles long through the granite cliffs of Black Canyon. Starting at opposite ends of the mountain the workers met in the middle using a heading and bench system. First, a heading was cut out of the rock at the top of the bore then cut down six to eight feet, leaving a bench of seven to five feet. Then they cut deeper into the rock and eventually removed the bench portion. President William Taft dedicated the tunnel on September 23, 1909.

Gunnison River from 1/2 way up the East Portal Road

The tunnel is not visible, however, a pump house containing a 5-hp pump and a flat surface under the water is.

Gunnison River Diversion Dam
The dam at end of East Portal Road
Gunnison Tunnel and Diversion Dam Parking and Picnic Cabana

All of our sightseeing must have been too much for us (I mean Jon) to cook dinner while in Montrose because we ate out twice in the short time we were there. First up was the Horsefly Brewing Company. We both opted for the fried shrimp basket. I had sweet potatoes fries with mine, and Jon chose onion rings. A crisp cold Hefeweizen washed it all down.

Horsefly Brewing Company

Check out the barstools at the end of the bar on the right.

Horsefly Brewing Company

Mi Mexico served bargain margaritas for $3.00 when we stopped in for an early dinner. While a bargain price wise, the restaurant did not skimp on the volume or taste. The taco/enchilada lunch special filled our bellies and did not disappoint our taste buds.

Next up we leave Colorado behind and head for Richfield, Utah.

Safe Travels

 

12 thoughts on “Montrose, Colorado, and Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park

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