Sunday, June 30, 2013

Black Canyon, Day 2--Boat Tour

This post was written on June 27, about that day's adventure.  Didn't have internet access then, and only now am able to post it.

Today was another wonderful day!  We had made reservations for the 12:30 boat tour of  the Gunnison River, the Morrow Point Reservoir section.  Even though the reservation was not until the afternoon, we got an early start, as they had told us to allow for delays due to highway construction on the way.  The man who took the reservation also had told us he wasn’t sure there would be room to park in the regular parking lot, so to be safe, we knew we had to park in a big open area, 3/4 mile before the start of the trail leading down to the dock.  As it turned out there was plenty of room to park and to turn the RV around, which the man had said would likely be an issue.  Since there was no way to know, however, we parked in the upper lot just to be safe.

It was quite steep going down, along a dirt and gravel road, which was fine, since only one vehicle passed us going down.  We knew that when we got to the trailhead, we had some 230 or so steps to go down to the river’s edge, and then a 3/4 mile path leading to the dock.  When we made the reservation, they had made this out to be a really big deal, and for some folks I suppose it was, but it was not as difficult as they had made it out to be.  Going down, we could hear the rushing of a stream feeding into the river, but when we got to the river edge and started walking alongside the river, the noise abated, and the river was quite calm, the current’s movement almost imperceptible.  The path is what used to be the narrow gauge railroad tracks--the railroad was built in the 1880’s and used until 1949 to haul freight and also had passenger service.  When the railroad was shut down in 1949, they tore up the tracks and turned the roadbed into an automobile roadway, but it’s almost unfathomable to imagine how cars could have driven on this narrow passageway.  It was only one lane and I don’t see how they handled oncoming traffic.  The road was used until they built the dam to form the reservoir in the 1960’s and the river level rose to cover much of the old roadbed.  They actually built 3 dams to form 3 reservoirs.

Anyway, the hike along the river was quite lovely, cool with gentle breezes blowing, since it was about 10:30 when we got to the path, lots of interesting and beautiful wild flowers along the way.  When we got to the dock, we were quite early and we were the first ones there of the 42 who ultimately rode the boat, so we sat at a picnic table under a shade cover and opened our baggie of trail mix to have a bite to eat.  No sooner had we sat down than several chipmunks came scurrying out of the bushes to see if these humans would either feed them intentionally or inadvertently drop some food.  I guess they could smell the trail mix when we opened the baggie, but no such luck on the food idea here.  As much as Santa loves giving out treats, we knew enough to refrain from feeding any wildlife.  I did get a great photo of a chipmunk standing up on his hind legs looking to see if we might drop a morsel or so!

Once the first tour got back to the dock and those passengers disembarked, the ranger came over to where folks were gathering to chat a bit before we boarded.  He was explaining how, if you wanted to boat on the river, you had to carry your boat down all these steps and along the path to get to the dock, and back up when you were finished.  Thus, even though there are no restrictions on using a motor, needless to say, the boats folks carry down are usually canoes or kayaks.  He also said if you want to take a boat on the river it has to be mussel inspected.  We had seen this sign up at the trailhead so I asked him about it.  Turns out, there have been mussels introduced in some of the lakes and waterways in the southwest, the mussels being of a type that essentially act as filters, consuming all the plankton, which are the essential nutrients for the small fish, which are the nutrients for the big fish--at some point, no more plankton, no more small fish, then no more big fish.  Even though some lakes are now infested, Colorado has enacted some strict regulations which the National Park Service follows, to try to prevent the mussels from invading these rivers and lakes.  As he said, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest lake is one of the biggest commercial fisheries in the nation, pumping over $20 million into the local economy, so it’s definitely in their interest to keep these mussels out.  So, when they inspect a boat, if it has evidence of any mussels or their eggs, there is a decontamination process that uses very hot high pressure water to remove any eggs or mussels.  Very interesting.

The boat ride was just glorious--of course, both of us really enjoy being on the water, no matter where we are, but this day was just beautiful.  Clear blue skies, bright sunshine, the color of the water was a brilliant turquoise green, reflections of the steep canyon walls in the river, a waterfall named after the wife of Chief Ouray, the most famous of the Ute chiefs.  The canyon walls rise some 1600 to 1800 ft above the river along the route we followed today--when the Gunnison gets into Black Canyon, the canyon walls where we were following the overlooks yesterday are some 2500 ft. above the river.  We saw some kayakers along the way, along with a fly fisherman--the river is apparently a super place for trout fishing, and Blue Mesa Reservoir is known for a particular type of salmon.  

When we got back to the dock at 2:30, it was quite hot, so we tanked up on lots of water before starting back up.  We had met this Dutch couple who had flown into Denver and rented an RV, so they had parked the same place we did, and we hiked out with them. Even though it was quite hot and the stairs quite steep, we were happy we were able to do it all without having to stop--woohoo!  At the top, though, we all four concluded that hiking the 3/4 mile up the steep road to the RV parking would not be a good idea, since all the vehicles would be going up the road, and we had already seen what a cloud of dust just one vehicle made.  So we hitched a ride up with a lovely young couple and the Dutch couple got a ride with the car right next to the one we rode.  So, it was just a super, super day, very relaxing, enjoyable and interesting boat trip.  On the way back to the campground, we were very lucky when we got to the road construction area, the one lane traffic was in our favor, and we didn’t have to wait more than a couple of minutes before we were able to get on through.  Came back to the campground, caught a few zzz’s had a delicious dinner with a huge salad with lots of the fresh veggies we still had from the Durango farmer’s market, and steamed some of the best sugar snap peas we’ve ever tasted!  Then we took a walk around the campground and met a lovely couple--anyone with a dog is so approachable, and they had a little toy poodle that really caught Trisha’s eye.  They live in Albuquerque, but turns out she’s a native of Germany so that gave us a lot to share, too.  They gave us some good tips on some other places to see in the area and lines on the best individual sites in several campgrounds.  Very nice, indeed!

Trisha's a happy camper as we start down the road from the RV parking area to the trailhead that will lead us to the boat dock
 Some views along the way as we start down the Pine Creek Trail

 Just as we got down to the river

 Walking along the former narrow gauge railroad bed, en route to the dock
Beautiful flowers
 Mr. Chipmunk, with his best imploring look, "Please Santa, a bite to eat--promise I've been a good boy!"
 Looking up river just as we boarded the boat
 Gorgeous color to the water, and nice reflections on the surface
 Chipeta Falls, named after Ute Chief Ouray's wife
 Just stunning views!
More views of Chipeta Falls

 The water was like glass for most of the day; when we got back to the dock and started walking back up the trail to the stairs that would take us back to the parking lot, we noticed that it was moving much faster, likely due to a release from the upstream dam at the end of Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Our ranger guide on the boat showing an old logo from the Denver & Rio Grande Western RR, just as we're about to pass through the view that was used in the logo

 Great fly fishing here!

 Beautiful red sections

 Some hoodoos way up high

 This rock looked like it was about to fall any minute!
Above, starting the hike back up the trail, below,

 Interesting striation on a rock as we walked back along the trail

Friday, June 28, 2013

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Day 1

This post is being written on June 26, but we don’t have internet or cell service here so I’ll post it whenever we get to a place where we can connect.

We knew this day was going to be good when we got the wonderful news of the Supreme Court’s two marriage equality decisions shortly after 8:00 our time!  Still much struggle for full equality left to face, but this is such a great step forward.

We then left Ridgway State Park and headed toward Montrose, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  We had never heard of this national park until friends Sue Ann and Jim told us about it, and boy are we ever glad we found this place!  It’s so beautiful, so different from so many of the other parks we’ve been, even the canyon parks.  No red rocks here, but the rock walls of this narrow canyon are dark gray, and in some places, particularly when the sun creates certain lighting and shadow patterns, they do in fact appear to be black.  We had heard back in Ouray that there were fires here and that the park or the access roads might be closed.  We were happy to find out, though, that the park was still open.  We were also glad we came on to the park, so we could get a campsite in the park, since we had not made reservations.  Some loops of the campground are reservable, but we were able to find a nice site that’s reserved, but for folks coming in a few days from now.  They allow you to take a site for two nights without a reservation, so long as you don’t overlap with the reservations that are marked on the site posts, all on a first come first served basis.  So we knew it would be better to come on to the park and find a site before we did anything else.  

By the time we got the site taken care of we had lunch and then headed for the visitor center. You actually start the South Rim Drive when you leave the campground and before you arrive at the visitor center, and there was one viewpoint first, so we pulled off there and got our first glimpse of the sheer dropoffs from the rim down to the Gunnison River bed, and it is spectacular!  I don’t think I will ever get over being fascinated by how powerful water is and what it has done over millions of years--here to cut this remarkable, narrow slot through the towering sides of black rock--just amazing.  We’ve seen the vastness of the Grand Canyon and all the beautiful red rocks in Utah’s parks, but this canyon is special in its own, different way.  The visitor center is very nice here, and the orientation film is very well done, telling the history of how General Palmer had wanted to run his narrow gauge railroad through here, but how he ultimately concluded it was not feasible, resulting in its more southerly location, since everyone had said the Gunnison River was impenetrable.  Then we learned about how two men later came along and, after unsuccessfully trying to navigate the Gunnison in two wooden boats, ultimately succeeded by using an inflatable rubber mattress!  They surveyed the river, leading to the successful construction of a diversion tunnel for water to be used for irrigation of farmlands.  Then the movie told a great story about a Presbyterian minister named Mark Warner who came here in the 1920’s, fell in love with the place and devoted his energy to getting this placed designated as national monument, and it ultimately became a national park.  Of course, Trisha was quite excited to know it was a Presbyterian minister who did this!

As we were walking out to the overlook at the visitor center, we saw a number of folks with firefighter tshirts on, but from Montana.  We asked this one woman about where they were working and she explained how they were being “prepositioned,”  meaning that they were called to come be prepared for where the experts are expecting more fires to break out.  She said they weren’t needed in Montana right now, since there was still snow where they were from, thus not too high a fire risk.  So they had a little time to visit the park, but they all had their radios on, ready to be called to duty at a moment’s notice.  This drought in this part of the country is so bad, and they’ve already had to evacuate a number of areas in Colorado, and at one point we saw where there were more than 2000 firefighters battling fires in New Mexico.  July is when rain typically comes, and July can’t come quickly enough for this area.  Anyway, we thanked them all for what they do.  Hope they all can be safe, and we can’t ever thank folks like them and other public servants who do what they do so the rest of us can be safe.

Then, as we were walking back to the RV, we met these two women who started going on about Santa and Mrs. Claus being here, and they wanted to have pictures, which of course we were happy to do.  When we heard them as, “So where are y’all from?”  we knew these were kindred southern spirits!  So get this--when we said north Georgia, this one woman nearly dropped her teeth, telling us she is from Dahlonega!  As we talked more and they asked where I did Santa, Trisha began explaining about how we go into Head Start and PreK programs for kids who can’t afford to go the mall for Santa pictures, she eventually mentioned that she had just retired from The Craddock Center.  Well this woman did another open mouthed face, and said she has known Dr. Craddock for years, and talked about how she’s always loved reading the Center’s newsletter, and when she made the connection that Trisha has been the one writing articles for the last 6 years, she couldn’t believe it!  Small, small world!

So we continued the 6 mile South Rim Drive, stopping at the overlooks, and just marveling at the incredible scenery.  In lots of these places, you could look almost straight down past your feet and see the river down below, and sometimes the sound of the roar of the rapids was quite loud, even up as high above the river as we were, so we could only imagine how loud it must be right down on the river itself!  At several of the viewpoints, you walk a ways to get to the actual overlook--not too far, but at this elevation and with the high heat, it doesn’t take long in midafternoon to take it out of you.  So after we finished the drive, we just tooled on back to the campsite to settle in for the night.  It’s taken until just about 8:00PM for it to cool down enough to open the windows, it’s quite nice outside now.  Tomorrow we were fortunate enough to get reservations for a boat tour in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which is about an hour’s drive from here, due to some construction slow downs en route, but we got the last two seats on the boat on either of their tours, so we were happy that worked out.  We’re really looking forward to that trip!  

Some shots along the way from Ridgway to Black Canyon
 These rugged mountains in the background, still with a little snow on them, are really dramatic

This little church was in a sort of museum area, with several other buildings, apparently moved here from other locations, on the way to the park.  Trisha was speculating, perhaps hoping, that it may have been the church of Rev. Mark Warner, the Presbyterian minister who devoted so much time to getting the park recognized.

 Some of the first views down into the canyon from one of the overlooks; like so many times before, I have to say that these photos really don't give you a real sense of the perspective here--in some places, the top of the canyon walls where we were standing are 2500 ft above the floor, where the river is.

 Even the overlook restroom building is a log cabin!
 Quote from Mark Warner on the display walls in the visitor center
 Can you believe I got this yellow bellied marmot to stand up for my picture?  Neither can I--it's a stuffed one in a display case in the visitor center!  We did see one in the flesh back in Capitol Reef National Park, but he was lying down on a rock above the path.
 Stuffed great horned owl in another display case--not quite as big as the real one we saw in Big Bend National Park in Texas

One of the giant dandelion puff balls we've seen so many of in the last few days

 Patch of beautiful wild flowers on the visitor center grounds
 Just a few of the Montana firefighters who are being "prepositioned" in Colorado to help if needed--thanks to all these brave folks who do so much to keep the rest of us safe
The Gunnison River down below--2500 ft below!
 Most of these rock walls are igneous rock, hence their darker color than the red sedimentary rock in lots of the other canyons we've visited.

Some of the beautiful wildflowers we saw along the walks out to some of the overlooks
 Not sure, but this may be the choke cherries used in the wonderful salad dressing we got at Honeyville
 Just gorgeous!
 Some more wildflowers we've not seen before on the trip

 These, of course, we've seen, but never grow tired of these cactus flowers
Trisha on Pulpit Rock--not a bad pulpit for this preacher, huh?

 Interesting striations in the rock walls

 Just love these stately peaks in the distance!

 Lupens all over our campground!

 They really do make a point of stressing water conservation whenever they can--this is a sign at the water point in the campground.