Bleak Canyon

This post was published on Friday 19 July 2013.

Last night I was in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park—the Gunnison being the river that carved out this particular canyon.  I wasn’t able to post an update due to it have almost no facilities at all: a long-drop latrine (with alcohol hand gel) and a tap.  It proclaimed that the hand gel kills 99.9% of bacteria—and I’m sure it does—however it doesn’t exactly clean anything, does it?!  So, arriving there hot and sticky (mid-30s), I needed a shower, or at the very least a sink to wash in.  I was so fed up, I nearly drove straight back out to find a motel with a shower.. but I stayed.  With the overcast weather, it felt very bleak indeed.

But let’s rewind a little.. yesterday was my first time in Colorado, and I already love it.  It’s so good, you can forgive the awful roads.  It actually reminds me a bit of Wales, except more rugged and enormous (Wales is 130,000 acres, San Juan National Forest is 1,800,000 acres).  The road follows the Dolores river for many, many miles, so there are lots of beautiful views of mountain valleys with the river running through, and the occasional lake.  And, there are thousands upon thousands of trees.  I imagine the Midlands used to look like this, centuries ago, before we chopped them all down!

Eventually though, all good things come to an end, and I reached the limits of San Juan.  It is definitely a place to come back to!

With the next thunderstorm coming in fast ahead of me in the mountains (usually, the mornings are bright, and the clouds start gathering early afternoon, before letting rip in the early evening) I stopped off at Montrose, the town before Black Canyon, for a coffee and to return the first air bed I had bought for a refund.. rather amusingly, although it would fit inside the tent I bought, it was too large to get through the opening inflated, and too large to inflate by hand inside (it has an electric air pump to run from the car).

As I arrrived in Black Canyon, I went straight to the visitor centre to see if it had wifi and/or food (it didn’t) and then went to put up my tent before the rain came down.  I could see it coming over the hill, so I charged around the viewpoints in the fading light—as a result the pictures aren’t really as good as I would have liked.  The Canyon is very impressive: the sheer walls are made of hard quartzite rock, brought to the surface by volcanic activity, so it was  very different to the sandstone canyons I am used to.

The most exciting thing that happened—and it is actually quite exciting—is that I saw a mountain lion!  As I was walking out to the spot called ‘Devil’s Overlook’, a sudden shower of rain sent me scurrying back to the car for my emergency poncho (and yes, ‘emergency’—I wouldn’t wear something so ridiculous for any other reason).

As the path opened up into a clearing, I saw a flash of yellow, and a dog-sized cat padding off into the undergrowth, carrying a small rodent or bird in its mouth.  I had obviously disturbed it jogging back to the car.  The information signs say that you shouldn’t approach the mountain lions, but that they will probably run away from you anyway, as this one did.  The signs also ask you to report any sightings (lions or bears) to the rangers, so I did, and he was very excited because a) it’s very rare, and b) no-one had spotted one for ages.

It was too quick to get my camera out, but it was very exciting—and much more so when I realised how rare it is to see them, and the Ranger told me how lucky I am to have seen that.

I then drove into Montrose in search of food and a shower. Given it was now raining, I was concerned about driving back in the dark (the Americans haven’t yet discovered cats eyes), so I went in search of food, and had my first experience Denny’s (strapline: ‘America’s diner’)!  In honour of the occasion I had one of their special burgers, with cheese and bacon (of course), and bourbon glaze... mmmmm.  And, I finished it!!

I had a short wander around Montrose because it was their street festival—except it was the first night, so most of the stuff hadn’t really arrived yet, and consequently the streets was full of children scoffing dodgy burgers and pushing each other into puddles.

This morning I got up early so I could view one of the points I had missed the night before in the rain: Pulpit Rock Overlook.  It was named for the presbyterian minister (Mark Warner) who encouraged the locals to build a road to the canyon, and then campaigned for it to be made into a National Park.  It is supposed to be the best viewpoint of the canyon, and I would agree, though it the overlook faces East, which makes taking photographs a little tricky at 8am!