Thursday, November 3, 2011

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park 10.29/30.2011

Last weekend we went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We stayed over in Montrose Friday evening, then spent all day Saturday hiking over hill and dale in the park. On Sunday, we visited the Cimarron and Morrow Point dam site of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, as well as stopping along the Blue Mesa Reservoir, and then various points along the Arkansas once we crossed back over Monarch Pass.

When we entered the park Saturday morning, we found the usual cheerful and friendly ranger at the entrance point. She directed us to the road that takes visitors down to the river level. It's a 16% grade, all the way, both ways. We spent some time down at the East Portal and Crystal Dam section of the river. We were the only vehicle going down or coming up. There was one small party of tent campers in the campground, and we saw one other vehicle along the river.

We missed the big fall foliage scene, but we still got some very nice shots.

We then took the south rim road to all the overlook sites and hiking trails along the rim. As you can see from the photos, it was quite hazy, even though the sky was very clear, at least during the morning and early afternoon. Our haze filters and polarizers cleaned up some of that, but not all.

We saw several peregrines, especially in the area around the Painted Wall. Mule deer were cluttering up the roadways and roadsides. We saw several other bird species but didn't get any photos of them, as we were shooting with wide angles rather than telephotos. At the Painted Wall, peregrines were soaring in the updrafts. It was quiet enough that we could actually hear the air flow over the wings of the falcons.

Sunday, we stopped at Cimmaron/Morrow Point dam right at sunrise. The canyon was, of course, heavily shadowed because of the time of day, and it was really chilly. A brisk hike down the trails along the river took care of the chill.

We stayed in the Days Inn in Montrose. Though this seems to be an older, refurbished motel, it was quite presentable, and very clean. When we checked in, the young fellow at the desk recommended a number of restaurants. We had looked some up before the trip and found that several had closed down. We ended up going to the Camp Robber, which was excellent. Leece had the Sonora Steak burrito, which was stuffed with perfectly grilled medium rare sirloin, while I had the chicken Florentine-stuffed crepes. The eats were first-rate, as was the service. This one is a definite on the 'let's go there again' list.

Back at the motel, we found that the room was very clean. There were a number of nice touches, including a yellow rubber duckie that Leece thought was really cute. I thought it was a rather unremarkable rubber duckie and would have been more impressed with a rubber AFLAC duck, but that's just me. The motel had complimentary bottled water, tea, coffee, and popcorn (the rooms have a refrigerator and microwave). Leece found the shampoo, conditioner, and soaps to be well within her ... standards.

Breakfast was typical motel 'continental' breakfast, with the usual waffle iron and other goods, nicely arranged and laid out with lots of room. The breakfast room was spacious and brightly lit by the morning sun.

After our return from the park on Saturday, we tried the Red Barn, an allegedly award-winning eatery across from the motel. We were not overly impressed with the eats; Leece had a small steak and I had the bacon/blue cheese burger, and both were a bit overdone and dry. Not so much that it was worth throwing a hissy fit, but not award-winning, either. The service was very good, the place was clean, and presented a very pleasant atmosphere.

We'd highly recommend the motel to anyone passing through or staying a few days in Montrose. It isn't one of the upscale outfits, but it was very good value and the staff were pleasant and helpful. We'd highly recommend the Camp Robber, and while we wouldn't give the Red Barn a thumbs down, our experience was such that either the 'award-winning' was overstated, or we were just there on a less than perfect day for them. It seemed clear to us that Montrose businesses make a concerted effort to welcome visitors.All of the employees of all the businesses we visited were friendly, helpful, and well-versed on what was going on in town that out-of-town visitors might find interesting.

As for the national park, it was, as we have found with all of NPS's facilities, a truly great experience. If you haven't been there, you are missing one of the nation's great treats. As Leece said, as we stood there in the shadow of purple mountains majesty ... "We are truly blessed in this nation ...".

And we are.

We have a photo gallery up on WritingPlaces.com, under Galleries | Road Trips 2011.