Tag Archive | granite cliffs

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Montrose County, CO

Another Covid-19 vacation is in the books! My family is vaccinated but we are still trying to avoid crowds when traveling. We have spent the past year renting homes/cabins and cooking most of our meals when out of town. This rural southwest part of Colorado seemed like the perfect place to check out a National Park and visit with our adult children for a few days. It turned out to be a great trip.

We took a morning flight from DFW to Montrose. The direct flight was only an hour and thirty-eight minutes – quick trip! The Montrose airport was small (4 gates) and very easy to navigate. Getting our rental Jeep was a breeze. Our Vrbo house actually ended up being a convenient ten minute drive from the airport. So far, so good! We were ready to explore the area.

The first excursion to check off our list: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This area has only had National Park status since 1999 and I was not that familiar with it prior to our trip. After seeing a few pics on a National Park social media page recently, it got on my radar. Though not as popular as the Grand Canyon, it certainly seemed less crowded and had some spectacular views with towering walls, spiky peaks, narrow openings and startling depths. I put in a little bit of research, found out how to get there, and off we went!

The Black Canyon National Park entrance was only twenty minutes from downtown Montrose and the drive up to the park was quite scenic as our elevation changed (and ears popped!). This route took us to the park’s visitor center that featured cool displays, info on the canyon, picnic areas, restrooms, a gift shop, campgrounds, a nature trail and a great observation platform. It was well worth a stop. I got a map, a walking stick and went on my merry way.

The route through the park along the South Rim Road was easy to drive and well-marked. It allowed us beautiful views of the Black Canyon from many overlooks, most of which only required short walks. I loved seeing all the different landscapes, plants and trees along the way. Hiking there can be as simple as strolling to the various viewpoints and overlooks or as challenging as a 2,700 foot descent down into the inner-canyon to the Gunnison River, which we didn’t do (because we are sane people!).

The Black Canyon itself was breathtakingly beautiful with its dark, solid granite canyon walls that tower almost 3,000 feet above the greenish river snaking far, far below. The canyon gets its name due to the fact that certain parts of the gorge only get thirty total minutes of sunlight per day. The walls literally look black due to the shadows. It is very, very narrow and very deep! For you geology nerds, the canyon has some of the world’s oldest exposed rock that dates back two billion years to the Precambrian era. Today the impenetrable, steep cliffs provide homes and protection to the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon.

We enjoyed many of the twelve lookout points along the rim with Pulpit Rock, the Painted Wall and Dragon Point being my favorites. The Painted Wall is the highest cliff (tallest vertical wall) in Colorado. From the rim down to the river, it stands 2250 feet high and as my daughter described it, “it looks like a big ole slab of marbled steak.” It is a huge, dark granite wall with wide, white “marble” streaks running through it. The size is somewhere in the neighborhood of ginormous!

At Dragon Point, the Painted Wall was across the gorge from us and far below was the Gunnison River. The river actually looked very curvy and small from our vantage spot so high above. Our view was quite deceiving. The Gunnison River actually drops an average of 43 feet per mile through the canyon, which is six times more than the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – just to put it in perspective.

If we had more time, I would have liked to experience the canyon from the bottom up. There is a road at the park entrance that follows a steep, switch-back route into the canyon’s depths. This would certainly be a memorable day for hiking, fishing, kayaking or rock climbing. I would have loved to have seen the mighty river up close and personal. Maybe next time…

The Ute Tribe that inhabited these tribal lands for thousands of years referred to this area as “much rocks, big water.” I don’t think anyone could have said it any better.

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Yosemite Valley

California

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In early April this year, my husband and I visited California and explored three national parks – Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Yosemite National Park. My previous blog detailed our trip to the first two parks and our journey along the Majestic Mountain Loop. Now we venture on to Yosemite.

After spending a busy couple of days exploring the previous two parks, we drove to Oakhurst, California and spent the night in this lovely little town located fourteen miles south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park. We felt like we needed some rest, a good meal (had some great Italian food!), and some time spent outside of the rental car. It turned out to be a smart choice for us.

We awoke that next morning, had a great breakfast, and began our short drive to the park. It was only a twenty minute drive until we crossed the border into the park but little did I know that Yosemite Valley and our hotel were at least 90 minutes ahead. The slow speed limit, road construction, winding roads, morning traffic, and park entry lines took a little longer than expected. Luckily, the drive was entertaining. We spotted mule deer by the roadside. I enjoyed seeing the snow that was still packed on the shaded sides of the road from the heavy winter snowfall. We passed through acres and acres of total devastation from last summer’s horrendous forest fires (this caused the traffic delays with crews removing trees and debris from the main road). Overall, it was an enjoyable and very scenic drive. About an hour into the park, following the curvy mountain roads – we entered Wawona Tunnel.

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All I can say here is WOW!

You exit the tunnel and you are at Tunnel View, the first of many astonishing sights. This view places you at one end of the valley looking straight out at Half Dome, El Capitan, granite walls, waterfalls, rivers, and vast evergreen forests. I understood immediately why this valley is referred to as “one of the most beautiful places on earth.” The Yosemite Valley is only seven miles long and two miles wide and this lookout point pretty much presents it to you in all its glory.  We parked in one of the large parking lots and joined dozens of others taking photos from this gorgeous, panoramic spot.

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After this photo-op stop, we  drove down into the valley and followed the circular one-way road that leads you past all of the major Yosemite landmarks. Sights that I had only seen in books, photos, and on screens appeared before me in real life: Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, Arches Rock, and the Merced River. Everything was larger, higher, brighter, and more spectacular than I had ever imagined. I stood in the footsteps of John Muir and Ansel Adams and soaked it all in – another one of life’s “pinch me” moments.

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David and I were lucky enough to stay at the historic Majestic Yosemite Lodge (awesome place!) located within the park. The parking, rooms, restaurants, amenities, and location couldn’t have been any better. We could easily walk to several of the park sights or catch a shuttle at the hotel to venture farther. The free park shuttles run every 20-30 minutes and allow you to “hop on / hop off” at any stop within the valley – they were very convenient and saved us a lot of time.

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We hiked up to the rock-strewn base of the three-tiered Yosemite Falls. We hiked to the base of Bridalveil Falls and got drenched with the ice-cold spray. We walked the trails through Ahwahnee Meadow and stood still as a herd of deer fearlessly walked by us. We stood and gazed up at the gigantic El Capitan. We enjoyed the visitor’s center and  the film that covered the history of the park. We browsed through the Ansel Adam’s Gallery and saw photographs from this area that brought him fame and fortune. We walked along the Merced River and relaxed a bit on the beautiful, sandy Cathedral Beach. We sat out on the hotel lawn one evening after a fantastic dinner and watched the stars in the night sky. We took a two-hour guided bus tour of the valley and learned a lot about Yosemite’s history, geography, geology, wildlife, and sights we saw along the way that are not in the guide books. When all was said and done, we crammed as much into two days as we possibly could and enjoyed every second!

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There was no way we could see as much as we wanted to in such a short amount of time, but we gave it our best effort. Yosemite National Park actually covers 1200 square miles and over 95% is wilderness, with the valley being a very small part of the whole park. Luckily, April turned out to be a perfect month to visit. The temperatures ranged from the fifties at night to the seventies in the day – and we experienced warm days, blue skies, spring flowers, and fewer tourists than other months of the year.

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The hotel, the weather, and the sights of Yosemite Valley were all better than we could have ever anticipated. Everything seemed to work in our favor. My one and only wish that was not fulfilled was a bear sighting! Maybe next time…

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