Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (pt. 1)
South Rim Campground in Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
Amenities: restrooms, firepits, food lockers, trails leaving from campground
Logan and I were supposed to make this trip back in March. We bailed because we were exhausted and couldn't realistically afford the gas to get down there. We were actually super happy about bailing - we got giant burgers and watched movies instead and it was exactly what we needed right then.
But, when we made the decision to stick around Colorado a little bit longer, that trip was still in the back of my mind. We had visited three of the four National Parks in Colorado, and I desperately wanted to go to Black Canyon - the pictures of Painted Wall and the Park in general were gorgeous. Finally, with my birthday weekend coming up, we had a reason to take the trip (and the financial stability to afford it). I actually booked this campsite while we were in Mesa Verde, so just a few weeks out and there were still reservable sites open.
We left Denver when Logan got back from his trip to Disney World - it's about a 5 hour drive, so we arrived right as the sun was setting behind the San Juan mountains. It was gorgeous, but it meant we were driving around and trying to set up our tent as night was quickly approaching. Since it was my birthday (!!), we had stopped for some birthday treats and Logan sang to me as I blew out the candles on my macaroons. It was, potentially, one of the best birthdays I've had.
I'll be honest, it was a pretty rough night of sleep. We were both exhausted, so we fell asleep quickly, but at around 3 am there were people walking around and cars starting and stopping and doors opening and shutting - it woke me up and got my anxiety going. I woke Logan up and he assured me it was okay, but I ended up staying awake till I could start hearing birds chirping (this is something I have carried over from my childhood - it's "safe" after the birds wake up (around 4:00 or 4:30 am). Needless to say, we were slow moving the next morning, but we dragged ourselves up and headed to the South Rim Visitor's Center.
I absolutely love Visitor's Centers. I try to buy a sticker for our camping crate and a topographic bandana of the park. I have it in my head that I'm going to make a quilt out of all of these maps, but we'll see how realistic that is considering most of them don't carry those bandanas. Anyways, Logan and I always spend time looking at the exhibits and reading about the history of the park as well as the animals and plants within - it's one of our favorite parts. This particular VC has a deck out the back - we went out there to check out the view, were blown away, and then realized the trail we wanted to hike was right there! We went to the car to get our sunscreen and then started down the Oak Flat Loop.
There's also an overlook behind the VC. We walked down it and, as became the trend for the entire trip, were in absolute awe.
On our hike I started to get a really bad stomach ache - I had been sick earlier in the week, but thought I was feeling better. We decided to play it by ear about what our plans would be, but tentatively we decided that heading home that night would probably be our best bet.
We spoke to a ranger about the best place to view Painted Wall before leaving, refilled our water bottles, and headed along the Rim Drive. Our first stop was the Pulpit Rock Overlook, which was super crowded so we didn't even walk the whole way, but it was our first real glimpse down the canyon and started to give us a sense of just how big this thing is.
We abandoned that overlook quickly because there were so many people, but the next overlook, Rock Point, was totally empty. In most parts, the road is pretty close to the rim of the canyon, but when it came to the overlooks you typically had to walk a few tenths of a mile to get to the view. And what a view it was. Some of these cliff faces were hard to fathom - and we weren't even at the biggest one yet!
Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in all of Colorado. It's 2,300 feet tall, meaning if you put the Empire State Building on the canyon floor, it would reach halfway up the cliff. I couldn't even picture that - it's like when you're on a cruise and your sense of scale is ruined. It's impossible to fully grasp how big this canyon is, probably unless you're standing at the bottom.
We hung out at Painted Wall for a while, marveling in it's size and wondering if the other cliff faces got sad because they were never photographed (don't worry, Logan took some of the opposite sides to make them happy). When we finally left, we went to Cedar Point.
At this point it was nearing afternoon and I still wasn't feeling better so we decided to pack up. We went back to get the tent and all of our belongings before heading to the North Rim, see more about that in Part Two!