Black Canyon of the Gunnison

4 07 2013
Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

In a break from our tradition of heading north to Glendo, WY for the July 4th weekend, this year we’ve headed to south western Colorado to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We’re camping in sites 13B and 14B at the South Rim campground. The campground is organized around 3 loops, A and B loops with about 30 sites each are reservable. All loop B sites offer 30/50 amp electric service. Loop C is available on a first-come first-serve basis. Each site has what appears to be fairly new firepits and picnic tables. Most of the sites are carved out of dense scrub oak, serviceberry bushes and tall grasses. The sites are packed in tight, you can hear close-by neighbors, but not see them through the dense brush.

There is potable water available in each loop, but without hose threads. A sign above the water spigot reminds users to conserve, “This water is transported 14 miles…”, being trucked in from Gunnison. Closest RV fill (and dump) is the small Cimarron campground, about 15 miles east on highway 50. The nearby amphitheatre complete with a sound and video system is booked nearly each evening for park ranger programs. On Wednesday when we arrived, Ranger Zach presented a Astronomy and Telescope viewing program. With cloudy skies, we opted to wait to see the repeated program on Friday night.

On Thursday morning we hiked the short Rim trail from the campground to the Visitor Center. In the afternoon we drove the 5 mile, very steep road to the East Portal ranger station for a program on the building of the Gunnison Tunnel in the early 1900’s. The 6 mile long tunnel provides water to the Montrose area for both domestic and irrigation usage. Ranger Tom led us through the history of building a small city at the deepest part of the canyon, and the amazing engineering that led drilling teams from both ends of the tunnel to meet within 3 inches of dead center. The tunnel carries approximately 500 CFM during growing season. During winter, gates are only opened as necessary to refill Montrose reservoirs.

On Friday, amid lighting storms in the far distance, the sky cleared enough for the Astronomy Through Your Own Eyes program plus telescope viewing. The amphitheater was nearly full with about 100 campers, much different than the crowd of only about 10 on Wednesday evening. Ranger Zach’s engaging and humorous talk focused on objects that are visible with the naked eye, briefly discussed astronomy history and taught us how to determine our approximate latitude by using Polaris (the North Star) and our outstretched fist. This was one of the most enjoyable and engaging talks we have seen in a National or State park.

On Saturday we visited nearly all of the viewing areas along the South Rim road.  Among these, perhaps the most dramatic was Painted Wall and Pulpit Rock.  We also joined another Ranger talk at Chasm View for a discussion of water supply and demand of the nearly 40 million people that rely on the flow of the Colorado River, the most contested, recreated-upon, and carefully controlled rivers on Earth.

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