Saturday, October 16, 2010 Sunny and 72 degrees
Finding a post office and restocking at Walmart (not so easy to do in the west) were at the top of our agenda this morning. Afterward we made short stops at Ross and Sports Warehouse. I think that my ankle problems may be caused by the hard soles on my hiking boots not gripping as they should, so now I'm trying to find out what might be best option for me.
Then we drove into Grand Junction. We've been looking forward to returning here since our first visit three+ years ago. This time it was obvious that the economy hasn't been kind. Numerous store fronts are now empty. The construction of a Marriott across from the Convention Center is the only positive we could see. However, this still is a very pedestrian friendly place: brick paver sidewalks, mature trees, and major traffic diverted to I 70 Business and US 50. What makes it fun is all of the sculptures found along Main Street: a bison made of car bumpers; a woman riding a bike; a frog prince; children playing in a fountain; a boy riding on his father's shoulder's; a huge dragonfly with mobile wings, intertwined railroad axles and wheels to name just a few. I didn't mention the abstract scupltures because I don't "get" them.
For lunch we went back to Dolce Vita for a delicious and huge Italian dish of pasta, sausage, and great variety of fresh vegetables. Of course, we had to have dessert, too. Yum. After all of that we didn't need supper tonight!
When we drove into Black Canyon this afternoon, we gasped. We turned a corner, and suddenly the whole earth fell away into an enormous wild, raw, rugged chasm with nearly vertical walls. "The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has the greatest combination of depth, steepness, and narrowness of any canyon in North America." It ranges from 1,730 to 2,700 feet in depth , drops an average of 95 feet per mile, and is only 40 feet wide at its narrowest point. The canyon was formed by water chiseling and shaping the metamorphic (schist and gneiss) and igneous (granite) rocks. The freeze-thaw process contributes to the formation of the columns, spires, and fins found mostly on the south walls. In fact the north side of the canyon is steeper than the south because sunlight, hitting its south-facing walls, causes moisture to evaporate, slowing the freeze-thaw cycle.
The film at the Visitor Center related not only the formation of the canyon, but mans attempt to explore it. In 1853 John Gunnison with a survey team entered the canyon to find the best location for a railroad. This attempt failed, and it was not until 1882 that a survey was completed, and then Italian and Irish immigrants, using picks, shovels, and hammers, were able to construct a railroad part way through the canyon. Finally, in the early 1900's, Fellows and Torrence were the first to explore the entire length of the canyon. By jumping into the rapids and "going with the flow," they discovered the best place to construct a tunnel that diverted water from the canyon to the nearby valley floor to make it arable.
We drove the seven mile road through the park, stopping at many of the pull-outs. At first glance the canyon walls look black, but as the sun shines on them up pinks, tans, and various mineral deposits light up. Even from our high vantage point, the roar of the Gunnison River echoes up the steep canyon walls.
From Chasm Point we looked down at the banks of the river and saw 7-8 kayakers struggling to portage an area where the river disappears beneath huge boulders. The difficulty of the terrain was obvious as they slowly made their way up the bank and along the base of the canyon. The sun was low, casting dark shadows below, and those of us watching from above wondered how and when they would make it around the boulders and how and where they would to spend the night.
Tomorrow we plan to return to the park to hike what few trail there are. The most interesting one may be beyond our capabilities. We'll be checking with the rangers to find out.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Fruita, CO, I 70E to Grand Junction, CO; then US 50E to Montrose, CO, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
TOTAL MILEAGE TO DATE: 9,736 miles