I booked this Airbnb cottage in Montrose, Colorado because I needed to be close to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
But first, goats.
Also because I needed goats in my life. If I am ever choosing between one Airbnb and another, and only one has goats or other non-human animals I can hang out with, I’ll give you one guess which rental wins.
There were at least three different varieties of goats that the homeowners keep as pets on the farm. They had names like Cheeto and Frito, Sundance, and Junior, Half-pint and Sally Sue. They have unusual horizontal pupils that allow them to have near-panoramic vision. Guests can feed them snacks, for which they clamor and bleat. This was peak pandemic.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
I love the stark contrast of canyons. The steep drops from their sheer cliffs into the deep, dark canyon narrows below. It’s disorienting – your body almost can’t tell if you’re high up or if the canyon is far down.
I love the dramatic variation in color in the southwest gorges, deep shadows and bright hot spots that change constantly as the sun moves across the sky.
The Brilliant Colors
The crumbly, dry dirt below your feet is baked all day in the sun, and it contradicts the vast swaths of dark shrubs and trees across the gorge.
The weather was warm and sunny on the day in early October when I visited, so I was treated to a full rainbow of warm and cool hues juxtaposed across the national park.
The fall foliage and shrubby plant life creates a variety of delicious textures, shapes and colors across the scene. Amazing how such small things can encapsulate so much depth and detail.
The Dramatic Geography
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has its own unique kind of contrast with warm streaks of peachy pink pegmatite slashing across the dark variations of granite gneiss and schist. This 2,250-foot tall canvas is called the Painted Wall.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a national monument from 1933 until 1999 when it was converted to a national park. The National Parks Service aptly describes it as, “vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.”
The Vast Views
The Narrows is as small as 40 feet wide at its narrowest point on the river, and the canyon stretches as wide as 1,100 feet wide in the Chasm. Some parts of the canyon get only about a half-hour of sunlight on a typical day.
Every new curve and overlook and offshoot creates a different perspective, almost as if you are looking at entirely different canyons. The Gunnison River curves like a sidewinder snake through the canyon, its erosion carving and shaping the canyon walls over eons.
The Tiny Details
In gorges like this, it is tempting to focus only on the massive canyon walls that shapeshift around you. But don’t forget to look at the smallest details right in front of you, too. Some of the most interesting colors and textures appear in the tiniest structures.
Take this pink granite, these vivid orange lichens, the shine of metamorphic rocks at varying stages of transition. If you only look at the canyon from one perspective, you will miss some of its most stunning beauty.
I spent my time on the outer rim on this trip, saving the inner canyon for another time when I have a few days to commit to the area. I would love to take the South Rim hike to the river and spend time in the wilderness, camping and hiking at the Gunnison River.
Warner Point Nature Trail
At the highest points of South Rim, you can take a self-guided walk through the 14 points off the Mark Warner and the Secrets of Piñon Pine trail. Grab a guide at the trailhead.
Once again, this is a completely different perspective on the canyon and the life therein. This 1.5-mile round-trip woodland hike takes you through some of the oldest piñon pines and Utah junipers in the area. What seems like harsh, difficult climate is teeming with life thanks to these beautiful trees.
They have lived countless lives across their existence. The trees have a very slow growth rate, many of them have been standing here for centuries. They stand watch over the river as it continues to carve the canyon curves. They held vigil alongside the Gambel oaks, Douglas firs, and Utah serviceberries when wildfires left scars on the hills and grassy flats below.
One part of the piñon grove is estimated at nearly 850 years old, a rare lifespan for a whole community of the trees. “Like callouses on human hands, the bark may thicken with time; the furrows deepening over the years,” the guide says.
And then, upon their deaths, they transform into homes and shelters for small woodland creatures, or become perches for the hunting hawks that shriek through the canyon.
With its immense, dramatic panoramas, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison teaches us much more than the depth, strength, and beauty of nature. Look closely – it also teaches us about perspective. It reminds us never to take anything at face value. Instead, push a little further, explore new angles, and the world may look entirely different.