In which we visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an obscure National Park, tucked into the corner of Colorado and overshadowed by it’s famous Utah and other Coloradan brethren (I’m looking at you, Mesa Verde). After visiting today, I can say that it does not get enough recognition as a cool place to visit. The hiking here is limited to the the north and south rims, unless you’re an amazing athlete and can risk the scary descent down the sheer cliff faces. We opted to not risk death, but would love to train to be able to one day hike the inner canyon.

6th National Park!

6th National Park!

First view - gorgeous! The Gunnison River that carves the canyon averaged a drop of 34 ft per mile. By comparisons, the Grand Canyon's Colorado drops 7.5 per mile.

First view – gorgeous! The Gunnison River that carves the canyon averaged a drop of 34ft per mile. By comparison, the Grand Canyon’s Colorado drops 7.5ft per mile.

thumb_DSC_0881_1024

thumb_DSC_0882_1024

We kept a healthy distance between us and the rim.

thumb_DSC_0885_1024

thumb_DSC_0900_1024

thumb_DSC_0888_1024

A swift current and large quantity of sediment has helped the Gunnison River carve this impressive scar in the earth.

thumb_DSC_0912_1024

thumb_DSC_0893_1024

thumb_DSC_0905_1024

It is called Black Canyon because some parts are so deep they only receive 33 minutes of sunlight each day.

As close as I dared.

As close as I dared.

thumb_DSC_0907_1024

The painted wall made of so many layers of sedimentary rock.

Juniper tree shaped by the wind.

Juniper tree shaped by the wind.

thumb_DSC_0923_1024

Mesas surrounding the canyon.

Sunset point

Sunset point

My biggest fear

My biggest fear

We misjudged this hike and did it in sandals - should have used our hiking boots that were in the car, but survived anyway.

We misjudged this hike and did it in sandals – should have used our hiking boots that were in the car, but survived anyway.

View from Warner Point

View from Warner Point

We only had time for the scenic drive of the South Rim at this park, but the hiking here requires something outside our skill level. One day we’ll be fit enough to try a descent into the inner canyon where the easiest route requires climbing down 80 ft of chain.

The rest of the day was spent traversing Colorado and the Rockies:

Glaciated peaks.

Glaciated peaks.

We ran into our first traffic jam of the trip an hour outside Colorado – probably people returning to the city after their weekend vacations in the mountains. It was surreal to be surrounded by so many creeping cars after having seen so few for the past week, but we made it through and were rewarded by a delightful and delicious dinner at Jax Fish House in Boulder (we enjoyed the oysters, lobster roll, crab cake and s’mores dessert). I have always wanted to see Boulder since my dad brought me a hat from there in 4th grade and the town lived up to expectations. One day we’ll have more time to spend in this little mountain, college town. The IronMan Triathlon was in full swing in the area and all the hotels were booked, so we ended the night here in Longmont, a few minutes away. On to our final few destinations tomorrow!

369 miles today (with an hour backed up in traffic) - respectable.

369 miles today (with an hour backed up in traffic) – respectable.

In which we visit Capitol Reef and Arches National Parks

This trip reminds me of an eight-course meal at a fancy restaurant. You don’t get a large portion of each dish, but you get enough to peak your interest, enough to taste its subtle nuance, and enough to want more.

We started the morning off at Capitol Reef National Park. Since I had trouble finding much information on this obscure park we settled for the scenic drive portion and were not disappointed in the views:

thumb_DSC_0788_1024

National Park #4!

Another outtake. I was struggling before coffee.

Another outtake. I was struggling before coffee. Also excuse the fog – I had cleaned my filter with a solvent and replaced it before realizing it wasn’t fully dry. Fortunately fixed this before taking the rest of the day’s pictures. But it’s kinda dreamy, isn’t it?

thumb_DSC_0790_1024

Unbelievable rock faces in stunning red and browns punctuated with green.

thumb_DSC_0796_1024

thumb_DSC_0789_1024

Rising in a slanted direction into the distance.

thumb_DSC_0794_1024

We stopped by a restored early Mormon settlement and bought cherry pie, cinnamon rolls and coffee from the general store. The national park service maintains the orchards early pioneers planted and it remains the largest fruit tree area maintained by NPS.

We stopped by a restored early Mormon settlement and bought cherry pie, cinnamon rolls and coffee from the general store. The national park service maintains the historic orchards early pioneers planted and it remains the largest fruit tree area maintained by them. You can even pick fruit in season for a nominal fee. The cinnamon rolls were perfect. The coffee made by Mormons, not so great.

thumb_DSC_0797_1024

Jeep is still going strong!

Jeep is still going strong!

thumb_DSC_0801_1024

Loved these sedimentary rock formations

Grand Wash canyon. We headed the flash flood warnings not to enter when a storm was imminent.

Grand Wash canyon. We heeded the flash flood warnings not to enter when a storm was imminent (also we were on a time crunch).

Grand Wash

Grand Wash – Called a wash because it was not a stream or creek or river yet. Not until it rains. Signs of road damage could be seen all along the drive from previous flash floods.

thumb_DSC_0810_1024

The red color was spectacular - I couldn't get enough.

The red color was spectacular – I couldn’t get enough.

thumb_DSC_0815_1024

For only having the morning to explore, the scenic drive was perfect.

For only having the morning to explore, the scenic drive was perfect and because we started early, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We stopped and saw some early petroglyphs - these reminded me of the stickers people put on the back of their vans.

We stopped and saw some early petroglyphs – these reminded me of the stickers people put on the back of their vans.

Capitol Dome from which Capitol Reef takes its name. It's supposed to resemble the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The white Capitol Dome towering above the Fremont River. This is from which Capitol Reef takes its name as it’s supposed to resemble the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

We headed out of the park towards Arches and kept being greeted by awesome canyon and rock formation views. It seemed otherworldly:

thumb_DSC_0831_1024

We stopped for iced tea and directions at a gas station carved into the rock:

thumb_DSC_0834_1024

And finally made it to Moab, UT where we grabbed lunch at the Moab Brewery:

Jeff had the Dead Horse Amber and I had the Moab Especial - both helped wash down chicken sandwiches.

Jeff had the Dead Horse Amber and I had the Moab Especial – both helped wash down delicious chicken sandwiches.

Today was ambitious: I had planned two parks in one day! But at the last minute I almost added a third. I didn’t realize Canyonlands was so close to Arches – they’re 20 miles apart which is a minute speck in national park distance terms. I really didn’t even know until we hit the exit for Arches and it said “One Exit: Two National Parks” and my heart immediately sank. What is wrong with me?! This whole trip was carefully mapped out, researched, planned. It was tight already. I spent lunch going over our itinerary – do we stay the night here and try to do both? Do we nix another one in favor of Canyonlands? And do we try to squeeze this one in without any preparation? Do we just drive to the gate, get the map and leave to say we’d done it?

In the end, I let it be. This trip is already pushing the quantity limit of quality. Not that we could just nix four parks and spend two days exploring each instead – it’s a lot of distance to cover and our stops are spaced so that we can achieve that distance. If we had driven straight to Minneapolis from Seattle it would have been 24 hours of driving. Our current concocted plan works out to around 52, so it would not have allowed extra time to linger. We need to be there on time so we can get settled and Jeff can work. No, I had to let this trip be what it is: a marathon taste-test. We’ll be back.

National Park #5

National Park #5!

Driving in past the Three Gossips - perhaps my favorite name for a rock formation.

Driving in past the Three Gossips – perhaps my favorite name for a rock formation.

And the gorgeous scenery continues.

And the gorgeous scenery continues.

Right before we saw the sign for what this was, I commented to Jeff that the rock appeared to be balancing on top of the other one. I should be a formation namer: it's called Balancing Rock.

Right before we saw the sign for what this was, I commented to Jeff that the rock appeared to be balancing on top of the other one. I should be a formation namer: it’s called Balancing Rock.

Like I alluded to earlier: I’ve carefully planned our experiences in most of the parks. Fern Canyon in Redwoods, Bumpass Hell in Lassenvisiting the bristlecone pines in Great Basin, etc. Each excursion was chosen to represent the character of the park and give us the maximum effect in our limited time. That’s why I ultimately couldn’t just add Canyonlands – I had no idea what to do there. A quick glance said there would be too many cool things, so I let it go. We’ll save it for another time. As for Arches, I picked the famous Delicate Arch (which also happens to be currently gracing the Utah license plate):

thumb_DSC_0871_1024

It was hot - 97 degrees. Rangers at the beginning on the trail checked to see that we had adequate water (we did).

It was hot – 97 degrees. Rangers at the beginning on the trail checked to see that we had adequate water (we did).

thumb_DSC_0849_1024

Queen of the world!

Queen of the world!

thumb_DSC_0863_1024

I am adding this to the growing collection of pictures of my boots in different environs. I’ve had these since sixth grade.

Stone piles marked the trail in some areas.

Stone piles marked the trail in some areas.

Almost at the top

Almost at the top

Worth the climb!

Worth the climb!

thumb_DSC_0857_1024

Delicate Arch!

Going back down was so much easier.

Going back down was so much easier.

We detoured to see a few more petroglyphs. These, like the previous ones, were carved by the mysterious Fremont people before they disappeared from the record.

thumb_DSC_0867_1024

thumb_DSC_0866_1024

I would love to come back and see the 2,473 other arches we didn’t see, but, the sun was high and we needed to move on.

State #6!

State #6!

We checked for places to stay near our next stop, Black Canyon, but came up empty. Our original plan to camp along the way has been thwarted by the tiredness we’ve been feeling as a result of the long drives with no AC. We’re not the twenty year old explorers we used to be.

The closest place we could find was an hour and a half away in Grand Junction, CO, so we’re bunkered down here for the night. I’m beginning to believe we might actually make this crazy itinerary of eight parks, eight states in eight days, work.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 9.32.15 PM

An easy 261 miles today, but we completed two parks, so I’ll take it.