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  • Writer's pictureDavid and Jennifer Cook

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Several people have asked us why we chose southwestern Colorado as the the next place on our list of travel destinations considering the arid climate and knowing our preference for water and greenery. Simply put, the main reason was that we wanted to find a location that would allow us to visit as many National Parks as possible during our short stay here. Luckily, Montrose, CO fit the bill perfectly. As a matter of fact, we are only 15 minutes from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This is a smaller park that a lot of people don't visit due to its location and being a lesser known park. However, that makes it even more special to us.

I've mentioned in previous blog posts that when visiting a National Park the most important travel tip we can share with you is to try and visit most of the parks during shoulder months (April/May or Sept./October). The crowds are much smaller, kids are in school, and you can usually find better deals at hotels. However, if you find yourself in this part of the country during the summer months, rest assured that this tip isn't quite as practical. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not as popular as many of the better known parks, so visiting during the summer months works just as well. In fact, we were able to make the short drive over on a weekend during the height of summer.

We stopped for a quick picture of the sign and continued towards the visitor center. Before we even got to the visitor center we were greeted to a gorgeous view! You know that you are in for an amazing experience when Mother Nature gives you this glimpse right as you enter the park!

I will say that I was curious as to how this park got its name since Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a bit of a mouthful to say. The Gunnison River carved out this canyon and still flows through it today. What is wild, though, is how narrow this river has made the canyon. In places the sides are only 40 to 50 feet apart yet the river is several thousand feet below. Because of that narrowness a lot of times the canyon walls are in shadows. As a matter of fact, part of the canyon can only received direct sunlight at high noon. Since the walls are covered in shadows they appear black. Hence the name of the park.

One of our favorite things about the park is how it is laid out for visitors. We entered on the southern end of the canyon and were greeted with several overlooks as we made our way toward the visitor center. We enjoy stopping at the visitor center at each park for maps of trails and other educational information (and, of course, for the loot we pick up at the gift shop). Most importantly, however, is that the first trail to the canyon rim is from the visitor center. It is an easy trail to walk and offers wonderful views of the canyon.

Of course, the rest of the park has many pull offs with plenty of parking to take other short hikes to various spots along the canyon rim. It is very easy to navigate. Another perk for the park is it that it is a dark sky park, so it is also an excellent park to visit after the sun goes down. There is nothing quite like seeing the stars dripping down like diamonds without light pollution to lessen their brilliance.

As we were leaving the park this cute little baby bear was trotting across the park road after its momma. We are in bear country out here, so it is best to be aware.

As a fun side note: As you leave Montrose and head to the park you will pass a McDonald's. What is unique about this location is that it is one of the last seven McDonalds in the United States that still has the original one arch rather than the two arches we all know today. I wish they had kept the diner in a 1950's style as well, but the sign is a fun/quirky find along your travels to the park.

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