Sunday, October 17, 2010

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, South Rim Road, Part I

Black Canyon of the GunnisonDanelle was kind enough to let me take an overnight trip this weekend, so I drove to Montrose Friday afternoon and got up before 6 a.m. on Saturday to visit a true hidden gem -- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Before the sun was even up, I'd driven the length of the South Rim Road and hiked to Warner Point. Fortunately I didn't spend all my time looking east waiting for dawn, or I would have missed this view to the northwest.

The rising sun gave me my first view of the landscape, with hints of brilliant fall colors.

Black Canyon of the GunnisonOnce the sun had peeked over the horizon, it was easy to see where the canyon got its name. The steep walls kept most of the depths in dark shadows.

I don't often take the time to just sit and watch a sunrise, but I can't really think of an occasion I did when I was disappointed.

Black Canyon of the GunnisonThe 1.7-mile walk to Warner Point and back was just enough to get my blood pumping, as the canyon teased me with glimpses through breaks in the vegetation.

The higher the sun rose, the more I noticed how truly vibrant the leaves were. I was afraid mid-October would be too late in the season for much color, but at least this year everything seemed to be at its peak.

The view to the southwest, I believe with Flat Top in the middle distance.

I think this is a pair of Canyon Towhee, but I'm even worse with birds then I am with insects and flowers. I'll be calling in some reinforcements for a more reliable ID.

UPDATE: Rebecca Kosten of the Colorado Birding Society once again bails me out, this time with the help of her husband Richard Stevens:

Your photo shows a pair of Cassin's Finches. They are common in the mountains where they replace House Finches. Canyon Towhees are a lower elevation and plains bird. There are no Gunnison or Montrose County records of Canyon Towhees.

So like I said, I'm no good identifying birds. Fortunately, I know people who are. :)

Black Canyon of the GunnisonThe pink veins in the canyon walls are a mix of granite and pegmatite. I swear one of the signs said that geologists estimate the difference in age between some of the layers of rock was as much as a billion years, with no explanation for why everything that "should" have been in between was missing. Just trust us -- we're scientists.

Some of the trails to the various overlooks were as much as a quarter of a mile long. I seriously thought about skipping a couple, and then regained my senses and realized if I had gone to the trouble to make the drive, I might as well see as much as I could. Even the trails themselves were all interesting, with striking plants like these yucca.

Seriously, I can't imagine the scenery being more breathtaking any other time of year except maybe for when all the wildflowers are in bloom.

Click here for Part II.

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