Hiking Oak Flat Trail at Black Canyon

Since we only spent a couple hours in this national park we asked the rangers for the best trail for us to hike. The canyon is way to deep (2,722 feet) for a leisurely hike down and back up in a couple hours. They recommended the scenic two-mile long Oak Flat Trail which takes you down below the edge of the rim but not so far as the river.

It was early October and the Fall colors were really vibrant and contrasted gorgeously against the blue skies and black walls of the canyon. The video below is just a clip of Trey jabbering away as he and Heidi walk down the trail.

Vertical Panorama – Black Canyon of the Gunnison Nat’l Park

Usually my panoramas are horizontal, but at a place like the Black Canyon that isn’t going to accomplish much. This composite is made up of seven images I took at Chasm View off the main road along the south rim of the canyon. It gives you a good perspective and idea of how insanely deep this canyon is.

Click it to launch a slightly larger version in a new browser window.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On our way from Grand Junction to Mesa Verde National Park we swung by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. Declared a National Monument in 1933, it wasn’t until 1999 that is was upgraded to National Park status by Congress. I describe the place to look as if God took a giant, dull knife and cut a deep, jagged wound into the earth. Or maybe it was where Satan had his fiery crash landing when he fell from heaven.

The canyon is over 2200 feet deep in parts and though its rock walls are made of gneiss and schist it is the near-constant shadows on the gorge’s walls that earned it the name “Black Canyon.” The most popular hiking trail that descends into the canyon all the way to the river is the “Gunnison Trail”. In one mile you drop over 1800 vertical feet – so steep that portions of the trail have a chain for you to hold on to. As you can imagine, climbing out is much harder than climbing in.

The river drops an average 43 feet per mile through the canyon (at one point dropping 240 feet in a mile) so it moves at an incredible speed. Add to that the fact that its narrowest point is 40 feet wide and you can image some crazy rapids! Only the best kayakers try this technical run in which all the rapids are all Class III-V, with many deemed impassable and therefore off the charts.

Kannah Creek Brewing Co in Grand Junction, CO

The highlight of Grand Junction was picking Heidi up. It had been two weeks since she left Trey and me in San Diego to return to work. On our long journey across Nevada and Utah he would tell me to turn off the road every time we passed a blue airport sign. “Aren’t we going to pick up Mommy?” he would ask.

Her flight arrived that evening and after picking her up we headed into town to Kannah Creek Brewery, a restaurant a friend recommended. Though the place is a brewery it is known for its incredible pizza. After dinner we introduced Trey to one of mankind’s greatest achievements: the root beer float. He absolutely loved it and the sugar kicked in later in our hotel room as he bounced on the bed in a frenzy.

The Devil’s Kitchen at CO Nat’l Monument

One of the more popular trails at Colorado National Monument is found at the base of the canyon and leads to a natural rock outcropping. I never figured out exactly why it is called “The Devil’s Kitchen.” The obvious guesses are that in the summer it would be blazing hot in this “room” created by three walls of massive orangish-red boulders.

Colorado National Monument

Folks around Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado just call it “The Monument.” It was there long before man first settled this remote area in western Colorado. What fascinated me most about this National Monument’s history was the story of the area’s first explorer, John Otto who called it “the heart of the world.” The man discovered this natural treasure in 1907 and made it his personal mission to make its beauty and grandeur known to the nation. Only four years later, he had convinced President Taft to establish the area as a National Monument.

It’s a pretty simple NPS site: one campground, one road. That road, however, offers spectacular views of Monument Canyon as it winds (often frighteningly) along the edges of the canyon’s walls. Trey and I spent one night there at the campground and explored the northwest rim of the canyon in the evening and the southeastern corner in the morning.

Here are some images that don’t nearly do enough justice to the incredible views seen from the edge of the canyon.

Colorado National Monument Panoramas

Here are two HDR panoramas made at different lookout points over Monument Valley in Colorado Nat’l Monument near Grand Junction.

Looking north to Independence Monument in Colorado National Monument

Looking southeast across Monument Valley near Grand Junction, CO

Canyonlands Needles District Panoramas

Two panoramic composites I created from photos taken in the remote Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The first pano was taken near “Elephant Hill” seen on the right. Click the images to launch a new window with larger versions of the panoramas.

“Elephant Hill” in Canyonlands National Park

The “Needles” of Canyon Lands National Park

Cave Spring Camp, Canyonlands, UT

In the late 1800s, the most important industry in the Western United States was the cattle and sheep business. Ranchers would roam the countryside looking for pastures where their livestock to graze. Around 1890, they began bringing their herds into Canyonlands National Park (though it wasn’t a park at the time). Since the area was so remote, the cowboys began setting up permanent backcountry camps where they would sometimes stay at for months with their animals.

Cave Spring Camp was one of the most important backcountry camps and to this day is well-preserved in Canyonlands’ Needles District. It was a perfect location as it features several alcoves and a natural spring (a annual water source in this arid land is crucial). The ranchers’ original kitchen is still there, as well as the fence that kept the horses out of their sleeping area. If you look closely in some of the caves you can see handprints and pictographs left there by Native Americans who lived or visited the area centuries before.

The park service has created a nice hiking trail that passes through the alcoves and gives you a nice tour of the camp. Trey’s favorite part of the short hike was the two ladders he had to scramble up.