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Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Colorado's Darker Version of the Grand Canyon

Posted: 8:49 AM, Jan 28, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-29 11:48:45-05
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Buried deep in western Colorado, 15 miles east of Montrose, lies the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

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This canyon is famous for its dark, deep, and narrow walls exposing some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rocks, and craggiest spires in North America.

How was it made?

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For nearly 2 million years, the Gunnison River carved through the soft volcanic deposits and eventually, with no where else to go, the much harder metamorphic rock underneath.

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The unique streaks in the canyon walls come from ancient volcanic collisions that occurred nearly 1.7 billion years ago.

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The park was made into a national monument in 1933, and reestablished as a national park on October 21st, 1999.

Why is it called "Black Canyon"?

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison gets its name from the steepness of the canyon walls and a lack of direct sunlight.

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Steep walls make it difficult for sunlight to shine into the depths of the canyon. In fact, some parts of Black Canyon of the Gunnison only see around 33 minutes of sunlight per day!

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These factors combined produce a dark, shadowed look across the canyon walls, leading to the name Black Canyon.

Things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison:
If you're an outdoor enthusiast and like to stay active, Black Canyon is the place for you!

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There are many hiking trails of all abilities on both the north and south rims of the canyon. Hiking down to the inner canyon is possible, but extremely strenuous due to unmaintained and unmarked gullies.

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Click here for a full list of hiking trails.

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If hiking isn't your thing, there are many scenic drives and lookout points along the north and south rim road, as well as the east portal road.

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Fishing is a popular activity within the canyon, as the Gunnison River being known for outstanding for trout fishing. Kayaking is also a popular activity but is only recommended for experienced kayakers.

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Black Canyon offers many opportunities for rock climbing, but is recommended only to experienced and expert climbers.

Visit the park at night!

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Due to low light pollution and open sky, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an amazing place to see the stars!

The park was actually listed as a dark sky park in 2015 by the International Dark-Sky Association. For the best viewing conditions, try and pick a night with clear skies and little to no moonlight.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Astronomy Event

Astronomy programs are held weekly in the park during the Summer by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. These programs are free to those who have paid the entrance fee.

Programs may include talks, night sky viewing with telescopes, or both. The park also hosts a multi-day Astronomy Festival every year.

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How to get there:
Driving to the black canyon will take over 4 hours, but will include scenic views of the Pike and San Isabel National forests if you take highway 24, or the Arkansas River valley past Canon City if you take highway 50.

The drive would make for a VERY long day trip, so we recommend staying somewhere in Montrose or finding a campsite to sleep and take in the stars.

The entrance fee is the same as every national park: $25 per vehicle for 7 days.

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Be sure to share the details and photos of your trip with us here at KOAA by posting to our Facebook Page.