Unsurprisingly, we had another early start, this time with a hotel breakfast (our first–not our main priority since we are light breakfasters), and then left Glenwood Springs for our destination for the day, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We took a smaller route out of Glenwood Springs and went along some fairly winding but peaceful roads, even surprising a doe with twin fawns that stopped in the hills right by the road as if to pose (or, judging by the expressions of the fawns, give us the stink eye for being on their road). The fun part was that this particular road led us astray in a very pleasant way. We had put “Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park” into the GPS of the I-pad, and it did dutifully get us there–but we didn’t know that there was a North Rim and a South Rim and that they are not connected. Once we figured out that we were on track for the North, we decided to go for it and had a great time–we hiked down a short (1-mile) trail to an overlook called (very appropriately) Chasm View. We looked across the very steep, dark canyon to the south side at the narrowest side (about 1,000 feet across if I recall correctly; it’s about 1500 feet down!). It was truly impressive, and we could hear the Gunnison below us, which carved this canyon into hard gneiss and schist for 2 million years to get to this point. Pretty amazing. We then took the rim drive on the north side, and got out at every overlook, with different and impressive views all the way along. Then we had our picnic lunch at the closed Ranger station (where there was a porch with one table in the shade!) and a friendly rope climber, who was coming back from a morning’s climbing trip into the canyon, recommended the long way to the other side of the canyon–along a beautifully windy road on the north side up river that eventually leads to the Morrow Dam, where there is a crossing.
We took off and were not disappointed, and again got out a lot to look at the various overviews, including over various reservoirs and toward the snow-capped San Juan mountains in the distance. But the long way around to the south was quite long, and we decided to overshoot the turnoff to the entrance and go all the way to Montrose, where we checked into our hotel and Mark took a little nap before we ventured back out around 5 pm. We had a wonderful but also quick Thai dinner, and then went back the 15 miles to the entrance of the park. We knew from the National Park map that there were several short trails and many overlooks, and also that this was the last day of an astronomy festival in the park. So we went along the south rim stopping for overviews and short walks, then hiked a slightly longer (2-mile) path to a viewpoint at the very end of the trail called Walker Point (with several impressive vistas and nature train information along the way). Around sunset (about 8:40 pm) we found ourselves a spot to watch the sun go down (there is a spot called Sunset View, but we could see the parking lot filling up, so we decided to risk a slightly less spectacular view of the sun over the mountains at the western end (the outlet) of the canyon. We then made our way down to the campground for a presentation that was supposed to bide the time until total dark away–it turned out to be on bats, so it was quite interesting. By about 10 pm, it was finally dark enough for the audience to be led to a spot where the local Astronomy club had set up its telescopes and was showing us various things in the sky. The park is a Dark Sky location, and it was a very clear night–so we could see an amazing number of stars, and the Milky Way was visible enough that even the astronomers were impressed. We looked at Jupiter and at a couple of globular clusters through some telescopes, and otherwise just stared at the sky in awe. Around 11, we finally headed home to the sweet and simple ‘Black Canyon Motel’, so that was a late evening for us!