Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Very Black Canyon, a 2 Mile Tunnel and a Really Cute Stud Muffin

After three mountain passes, we were ready to camp.  So was CharLi and Toad.  We don't like making advanced reservations very much anymore so we take our chances.  Fortunately we arrive in early May when not very many people are traveling other than full timers such as ourselves and we arrived early in the day.

 Glad we did.  We drove through the campground, seeking a level place to unhook Toad, then surveyed the available campsites.  We found 3 possibles.  The first site we spent 30 minutes trying to get a decent level on the RV.
Lunch Finally
Although I could get it level, after last winter's issues with slide-out I was hesitant to raise up too high so, when I saw the front left wheel completely off the ground and the right wheel still on the ground, I said, let's try another site.  We moved just across to a shorter, cozier site and leveled real easy.  It's tricky to gauge the level potential of a site sometimes. Most of the time we can do it but are still learning.
After lunch we head to the visitor center to check out the park.  We meet Tom, also a camphost who fills us in on the best places to visit and we make a date to meet him later in afternoon down in Cimarron.  This place is so unlike the Sandstone formations we have been encountering along the way in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
Early morning vista
We get in the jeep and head out along the canyon rim.  The Black Canyon is named because of an uplift of very old hard rock in the area a couple billion years ago here in SW Colorado.  Then the fast moving river cut down the hard rock. to form a 2,000 ft deep canyon.  Very different from the Grand Canyon which was formed by erosion of soft rock or Yosemite which was gouged by Glaciers.
Dragon vista.  Can you see the two Dragons in the Rock?
We then headed down to Cimarron, about 25 minute drive up river which meant we go descend out the backside of canyon to main highway, drive east over another mountain pass, then descend down to the Gunnison river's edge where we meet Tom, the camp host of Cimarron Campground.  He promised us a personal tour of the railroad museum.
Restored Steam engine (does not run)
Apparently back in the hey day, the Denver and Rio Grande RR ran a narrow gauge through the upper canyon which connected to the standard gauge mainline in Montrose.  Cimarron was a place where helper engines were added to help the trains travel westward up over Cerro Pass.  Not much left now except some railroad cars and a restored engine which looks great but doesn't run.  Still pretty cool.
Crystal Dam on Gunnison.  Upper east end of park
We drove down this narrow gorge on the old railroad bed to see one of the hydro dams on the river.
Tom spends summer months here in Colorado then has a "job" volunteering at a state park in the Florida Keys.  Really?  hmm.  Will we have an in down there next winter?  Sigh.  He said the park is already booked solid all winter 11 months in advance.

It is still merely late in afternoon with Sunset not til after 8 PM so we go back up to the rim of canyon and descend again to the river in the deep canyon.  This time its 2200 ft descent in 5 miles.  16% grade. Toad does pretty well.  Not a cycling road nor for CharLi.
Downriver Deep in Canyon
We enjoy the peace and quiet of the river.  Fishermen patrol the banks.  The campground has 3 pickup trucks with camper units on back.  We walk downriver a half mile. We enjoy the solitude.  We then drive upriver a little ways to investigate the Gunnison Tunnel.

The buildings over the Gunnison Tunnel
Back in 1909 construction began on a tunnel through the canyon wall to route water from the Gunnison River to the valley above Montrose.  Working 24/7 they drilled and carved through hard rock and in 1912 the over 2 mile long tunnel was functioning thereby opening up the west side valley to agriculture.  This feat has been hailed as a major engineering achievement of the early 20th century. I could wax on about this but will not bore you, the reader.  Hard not to appreciate when you see the actual place.


Dusk was approaching so we headed back up the 5 miles windy steep grade. I am now driving into the late setting sun. Near the top, Sraddha says "STOP, STOP"!! What?  Am I about to hit something?  No.  She has spotted a bird.  Of course.
Female Dusky Grouse (backlit with sunlight)
We slowly roll down the window.  I get out with my new Olympus camera and ultra zoom lens and walk behind the jeep.  "What is this bird?" Sraddha asks?  It is pretty dark but we finally figure out it is a female Dusky Grouse.  New Bird!  Woo hoo. Where is her male counterpart.  We don't see him.
Male Dusky Grose.

We drive a little further and spot him!!  He is puffing up and courting.Where is his girlfriend?  Will they find each other?  We can hear him.  He is such a stud muffin!  
What a Stud Muffin!
Nice way to end the day around the Canyon.  We do get up next morning to visit more of the rim.  Then head out towards Grand Junction.
Early next morning

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