Leave the crowds behind and explore Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of the most dramatic places in America.
By Laurence Parent
The faint roar of whitewater drifts up from the abyss at my feet as I cautiously lean over the railing and peer down at the Gunnison River 2,000 feet below. Just a single family shares the overlook with me on this summer afternoon, and I admit the extra elbow room helps make Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park one of my favorite places.
With its sheer, dark gneiss and schist walls shrouded in shadow even in brightest daylight, it’s clear where Black Canyon gets its name. I continue along the South Rim road, stopping at the many overlooks along the way. Each provides an inspiring, vertigo-inducing view of the canyon. At Painted Wall View, newer molten rock has squeezed through cracks, coloring the massive cliff with pinkish streaks.
At Dragon Point I watch the sun set over the plateau and envy a raven as it dives into the depths, reaching the bottom in moments. The next morning I take a less dramatic trip down to the river along the steep, narrow East Portal Road to Crystal Dam and Reservoir. It’s a beautiful drive, but I still yearn to stand beside the river as it rages through the deepest part of the gorge.
So I drive around to the nearly deserted North Rim. And after checking in with a park ranger, I begin my descent—part hike, part scramble—down a narrow ravine. There’s no trail, and the route drops 2,000 feet in less than a mile. At the bottom, canyon walls block all but a sliver of the sky and trap the deafening roar of the river as it crashes through rapids and over giant boulders.
I find myself wishing I were that raven, able to fly back to the top of these towering cliffs, but I’m going to have to climb. It’s still worth it. That evening, as I once again enjoy the sunset over the canyon, I wonder why more people haven’t discovered one of the most dramatic places in America.
Photography by Laurence Parent