I’m going to leave the above picture for you to look at for a second. Does it look a little dangerous? How about breathtaking? Welcome to Colorado and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Established only recently in 1999, Black Canyon has actually been in the works for a long, long, long time. National Geographic may have said it best when they explained,
“Imagine chiseling two parallel walls of hard gneiss and schist running the length of Manhattan and standing higher than two Empire State Buildings stacked atop one another, with water as your only tool…What you see from the rim is the product of two million years of patient work.”
That’s what you have to keep in mind when you stand on the precipice of Black Canyon. Two million years. From a vantage point of 2700 feet above the Gunnison River, the expanse of this park might not be entirely comprehensible to you. Even in the earliest findings of history, no human occupation of the valley is to be found- the mighty cliffs were nothing any person sought to overcome. Later in history, however, the canyon became an obstacle to Spanish, French, and American explorers trying to investigate the territories. Something about a cliff over half a mile high that draws the attention of an adventurer!
As explorers of the 21st century, though, we have far more opportunities to experience this phenomenal park, thanks to the National Park Service. If there are experienced climbers out there, I would say have at those cliffs- but be warned, these cliffs are not just steep, they also prone to crumbling and offering very little handholds. Attempt at your own risk; there are plenty of other adventurous escapades we can pursue.
The Black Canyon is inviting to some of the most experienced and adventurous of outdoorsmen (or women) because the territory is so very strenuous. To me, the hike to the bottom of the canyon does sound like an adventure worth taking. The National Park Service warns visitors that there are no marked trails to the bottom and that the hike itself is for only those in the best physical condition. So if you’re ready to pack high-energy food and LOTS of water, feel free to get yourself down the canyon with guided ropes and a couple of friends. Be careful of bears, though, and poison ivy. But no matter how challenging all that sounds, think of the feeling of reaching the bottom of that awesome canyon and looking up. I would think that’s worth all the bruises, scrapes, and poison ivy.
Regardless, I realize that risk is not for everyone. For those who want a little less danger in their lives, I suggest we take the Oak Flat Loop trail or the Rim Rock trail. These two trails maintain views of the spectacular canyon without quite as much death-defying challenges, traversing the outer rim of the canyon and venturing into some of the park’s thick forests and death-defying cliffs. Throw on a backpack, pack a water bottle and some snacks and head out for a hike and get a closer look at this beautiful creation of nature.
As you can see, as we get closer to the west coast the adventure is only growing. Black Canyon is a reminder that there is danger in even the most majestic places. Mother Nature sure has a way of making some phenomenal places for us to explore. It is on us to choose the adventure that is best for us.
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