Spring break 2017: Colorado’s compelling Black Canyon

Black Canyon of the Gunnison — located in Montrose, Colo­rado — is a national park that has 12 miles of the Gunnison River flowing through it. The park is best known for its dramatic Black Canyon, a set of 2-billion-year-old cliffs that are often covered in shadows, causing them to appear black. The canyon is so steep that sunlight only shines down the 2,000-foot fall for less than an hour a day.

The park attracts people who enjoy hiking, scenic drives, fishing and rock climbing. Many people also visit the park to get a glimpse of the wildlife that roams there, such as mule deer, coyotes, elk, bears and bobcats. A visit here will offer a chance to explore natural eco­systems and learn about wildlife from afar without disturbing the animals.

Although rock climbing is a very popular pastime in this area, it is im­portant to note that the area is not for beginners — the rocks are very steep and detailed information about the climbs are almost non-existent. For those looking for a relaxed time, it’s better to go on scenic drives along the rim of the canyon. South Rim Road provides visitors views from 12 outlooks spread over 7 miles, and takes around two to three hours to explore. East Por­tal Road gives people access to recre­ation areas where they can camp, picnic and fish. However, this road is very steep and has sharp curves that drivers must be careful of when going down it.

Hiking is extremely popular throughout the year in this canyon. There are many trails between 1 and 7 miles in length that offer leisurely walks along the rim. The trails can be narrow and steep, so caution is advised. For those looking for a harder trail, try the North Vista Trail, which offers some of the best scenery in the entire park and is popular for bird watching. The trail begins at the North Rim Ranger Station, passes through Exclamation Point — which has the best inner-canyon views — and ends at Green Mountain, known for its breathtaking sights of the San Juan Mountains and West Elks. For more strenuous hikes, visitors should look for trails in the inner-canyon. One advised caution for this activity, though, is to keep bags within arms reach and not leave food or wrappers lying around because bears tend to approach hikers for food.

Another well-liked activity in this area is stargazing. The park has some of the darkest skies in the country (only safety lights are used at night). This allows for over 15,000 stars to be seen on clear nights, making it a very popu­lar place for astronomers and stargazers alike. Seminars are given throughout the year to educate visitors about light pollution and how it changes the sky and the number of stars visible to the naked eye. During February and March, the park also offers guided snowshoe walks for those who want to see the full night’s sky while on a hike.

The easiest way to get to Black Can­yon of the Gunnison is by flying to Montrose Airport and then renting a car so you can enjoy the drives along the rim. However, if you aren’t inter­ested in driving, there are taxi services to take you to the park or your hotel, and you can look for local transport to get you from location to location. Ho­tels in this area are around $60 to $100 per night but book in advance for bet­ter deals.

If adventure — and beautiful night skies — are your forte, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park might be the perfect place for you to spend your spring break.

COURTESY OF JESSE VARNER

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