THE BLACK CANYON
Christy, Myron, Saucony, and I all piled into the Xterra and headed out of Grand Junction. We were running late, but I still wanted to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Most park visitors head for the more accessible south rim. I had something else in mind. The less-developed north rim features a winding dirt road that looked like a promising mountain biking destination. Since we had hauled our mountain bikes 2/3rds of the way across the country, I thought it might be nice to actually use them. While we rode, we’d turn the car, and the dog, over to Myron. It would be a fairly short ride, and we were confident he’d be able to find plenty to do.
It wasn’t long before our plans were derailed. First, we had considerable difficulty finding the turn for the road to the north rim. We thought the turn was in the town of Crawford. We missed it, so we turned around and headed back to town. Somehow, through dumb luck and trial and error, we managed to follow a series of roads to the park. Later, we discovered that the well-marked junction is a couple of miles beyond Crawford.
Even before reaching the park, we knew our mountain biking plans were in jeopardy. A wall of ominous black clouds was approaching from the west. By the time we reached the north rim road, a storm was imminent. Riding a metal bike along the edge of an open plateau in a thunderstorm sounded like a bad idea, so we decided to stay in the car. We headed down the north rim road, and managed to visit a couple of overlooks before the storm hit. The driving rain, hail, and brutal winds chased us to the ranger station, where we killed a bit of time. Fortunately, the storm passed quickly. However, the wet and muddy road, as well as the late hour, convinced us to skip the mountain biking. Instead, we visited the campground, and hiked the nature trail there. The nature trail is one of the few in the park that allows pets.
The nature trail took us to a couple overlooks of the canyon. The canyon itself is quite impressive. Although quite narrow, the cliffs present a sheer drop of over ½ mile. We enjoyed the views of the river racing through the gorge far below. Across from us, the sheer cliffs that form the south rim rose towards a rapidly clearing sky.
After our walk, we drove the North Rim Road again and stopped at the overlooks we’d missed earlier. I enjoyed the overlooks, and I made some futile attempts at photography despite the horrific lighting. Most of these photos were disappointing, but I managed a few that were salvageable.
Before long, it was time to resume the journey. We returned to Crawford and then rejoined route 92 through the Curecanti Recreation Area. This scenic drive featured some nice views of the Gunnison River Gorge and Blue Mesa Reservoir. We crossed the river, and I suggested a shortcut to Lake City. The map shows a dirt road connecting directly to route 149. If the road was good, it would save us a half-hour or more. If it wasn’t, Myron and Christy would kill me.
At first I was a little nervous. The road wasn’t in very good shape. As we bounced along, we debated turning around and returning to the highway. Luckily though, the road improved, and before long we were sailing through the high desert. Some time later we joined route 149, having saved quite a few miles and minutes. Is there anything more satisfying than a well-executed shortcut?
We drove into Lake City, where we found some shops, a few restaurants, and lots of rental cabins. There didn’t appear to be any vacancy in town. This made me a bit nervous. I thought Lake City was so remote, it wouldn’t have heavy visitation. Apparently I was wrong. We could only hope that we’d find a campsite.
We drove up the road past Lake San Cristobal towards Cinnamon Pass. The first campground, on the lake, didn’t look very appealing. A few miles later, we reached a forest service campground at Williams Creek. There were only a couple of vacant sites, but we were lucky enough to find an attractive one. However, as we drove through the campground, we noticed that most of the other campers had ATV’s. Uh, oh. Was this a good idea? Briefly I envisioned people riding through the campground on those things at all hours. On the other hand, nobody was actually riding through the campground then, and it was only early evening. Plus, we weren’t sure if we’d find a vacant site at the next campground up the road.
We set up camp and had a leisurely dinner. It was good to be there, as we planned on spending four nights. It was nice to know that we wouldn’t have to pack up for awhile. I slept well that night, as I was looking forward to my first hike in the San Juans the next day.
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