An Absolutely Gorgeous Gorge

The scenery on the road leading up to Black Canyon of the Gunnison was nothing special. There were some small shrubs, a couple of hills, and a pretty sky. I thought to myself, “Doesn’t seem like I’m anywhere near a park, nevertheless one that I heard had views that could take your breath away”.

And then I turned a corner.

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One of the many overlooks.

Oh my goodness-gracious!

Steep, narrow, extensive slices of rock plummet over 2,000 feet to a roaring river. It was entirely overwhelming and my eyes just didn’t know what to focus on.

The geology of the canyon is truly unique. The hardness of the rock coupled with gravity forced the flowing water downwards carving deep fissures over the course of many, many years. And looking over the edge doesn’t begin to give you a true sense of how far downwards that rock goes.

That’s why I decided to hike to the bottom.

The Gunnison route is the “easiest” scramble down. A 1.5 mile hike that has an elevation change of 1,800 feet. To call it a hike, though, is an understatement. There were times I was scooting on my butt, grabbing onto tree roots for dear life. At the bottom, watching the river and peering up at the sheer rock faces surrounding me was an experience that I’ll never forget. I sat. I looked. I listened. Coming back up the canyon didn’t feel nearly as perilous, but I was huffing and puffing like a wildebeeste pretty much the whole time.

If you’re ever in Colorado, make the drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

It’s 100% worth it.

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The view from the top (for perspective, notice those pine trees on the ledge; they typically grow to be about 100 feet tall)
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The view from the bottom (the surrounding cliffs in this part of the park rise about 1,800 feet from the Gunnison river)

 

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Seasoned

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Notice the play of light on the rocks (Mesa Verde)
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One of the many openings at Mammoth Cave

 

Today officially marks the 2-month point in my journey. It’s been exhausting, incredible, fascinating, frustrating, and one of the best decisions of my life.

I feel like I started as an eager newb with little experience when it came to full-time camping and long road trips. Now, I’m a just-as-eager traveler who has learned a lot, met extraordinary people, and experienced more spectacular moments than I could ever hope or dream.

Here are some significant things that I’ve discovered:

  • Country music is not only tolerable, but is perfect for driving down back-road highways
  • Always pack a rain jacket in your bag, even if it’s only a 5% chance of rain
  • Never underestimate the generosity of a stranger
  • High altitudes make you ridiculously thirsty
  • A gorgeous view make ok activities good, and good activities great
  • Microwaveable mac n cheese tastes like heaven after hiking 8 miles
  • Look for the small, beautiful things that nature has to offer; this requires getting rid of your “city eyes”

As I continue my travels, I look forward to new places, new experiences, and new people I will meet along the way.

Thanks for being part of this journey.

Mesa Verde Recap

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Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 3 nights

Highs:

  • Touring the Mug House dwelling site (it was a back country tour that was off the beaten path)
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A glimpse of some of the Mug House dwellings (those window-looking openings are actually doors)

Low:

  • Minor altitude fatigue

Favorite Hike:

  • Petroglyph Point
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A view of some ancient rock carvings along the Petroglyph Point hike

Favorite Treat:

  • Elk quesadilla

Cliff Dwellers

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A top-down view of a Kiva, used for social and spiritual purposes

Mesa Verde has been quite a memorable park so far. I was able to take a guided tour of 3 different cliff dwellings and view a couple other sites on my own. It’s surreal to walk through ancient ruins and spot pieces of broken pottery over 800 years old.

I have a lot of respect for these Ancestral Peubloan, who fashioned entire villages wedged into cliff alcoves. They chipped hand and foot holds into the rock that they used to climb up, over, and into their fields on the top of the mesa. Scrambling down the rock face, slipping through tiny tunnels, and climbing up into their rooms made history truly come alive.

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Cliff Palace

Great Sand Dunes Recap

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Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 4 nights

High:

  • Meeting so many new friends; it’s encouraging to encounter fellow travelers who are just as passionate about nature as I am

Low:

  • Sun exhaustion my second day (the weather is deceptive since constant wind makes the sun feel much less intense than it is)

Favorite Hike:

  • Mosca Pass
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This 7.5 mile hike felt like a happy fairy tale

Favorite Treat:

  • Watching the sun set over the Dunes at the same time a full moon rose over the mountains
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The full moon was rising behind me

Favorite Random Moment:

  • Using a sun telescope for the first time and viewing a solar flare

 

Dunes, Dunes, Dunes!

The views are spectacular and the hiking trails are out of this world, but the real bread-and-butter of this park is the Dunes.

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The Dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background

A little education:

  • The sand you see at the Dunes is the tip of the iceberg… literally. Expert researchers have investigated and realized that there is way more sand underneath.
  •  If you take a magnet, plunge it into the sand, it will come out full of magnetite, an eroded mineral from the nearby mountains. I tried this. It was neat.
  • The sand particles at the Dunes goes through a cycle: strong southwesterly winds blow them, and then running water from nearby creeks carries them back.

 

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This was the bunny hill I warmed up on before hitting some of the bigger slopes

A little fun:

I rented a sandboard and spent a whole morning playing around in the sand. I almost got the hang of it by the end.