Monday, July 15, 2013

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

My personal discovery of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park came in 2000 when I received the brown sign along CO-50 as a personal invitation. I had no idea what lay before me as I steered my Nissan XTerra up CO-347, but my sense of adventure was registering something special.

And special it was! This deep and narrow gash through some of the oldest rock on Earth's surface has long been encountered by man. Native Americans, explorers, trappers, and wanderers all most certainly stood on its rim frozen in the same dumbstruck awe that overtook me that day. Four visits later I still get goosebumps peering down from the rim.

Click the pics to expand them :)
As I often do, I tried to imagine what those people from earlier times thought when they came upon the canyon without the aid of roads, or signs, or maps, or GPS devices. Surely it must have taken them by complete surprise. Given that no traces of early human activities have been found in the canyon, it most certainly changed the direction of their travel.

Until, that is, it was decided that fifty-three miles of narrow gauge Denver and Rio Grande Railroad would be routed through the canyon. The colossal labor was completed in 1882 and trains ran along the line with earthly riches, cattle, and astonished travelers until 1949. The entire railroad and almost everything associated with it, including the original town of Cimarron, were later removed and replaced with National Park roads and structures. National Park history and railroad enthusiasts can click on these links to ingest more information or to plan a trip.

The film showing at the visitors center this summer focuses on two adventurers named Torrence and Fellows who explored the canyon in 1901. It was their expedition that first navigated, or conquered, the precipitous Gunnison River through the 40-ft wide, 2700-ft deep section of the canyon known as The Narrows.  They were searching for a place to start a tunnel that would allow some of the river's water to be drained into the Uncompahgre Valley for farming. Without knowing what waited for him, Torrence jumped into the fifth steepest stream in North America and floated through what has become known as Whirlpool Rapid. Fellows followed. Their brave gamble paid off as they survived and located the best site for the Gunnison Tunnel.

So unique and sovereign is this canyon that it gained the attention of President Hoover to become a National Monument in 1933 before being upgraded by Congress in 1999 to National Park status.

Description of this impressive canyon elicits a variety of superlatives. I'll leave that to your own senses as you look through the photos that follow.  If the skies seem different it is because the photos were taken during multiple visits at different times of the day and through air that ranged from crystal clear to markedly hazy to wildfire smoky. Enjoy the photos, but make sure you put a trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on your bucket list! BTW - I'm posting this after embarking upon my next adventure.  ST

Halfway up, but still a lot of climbing to do.
Oops! Saw that on my way back up from the river.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Durango-Silverton Railroad

Passengers first ascended by rail from Durango to Silverton in Colorado in 1882. Those people were, of course, secondary cargo. The railroad was built for the purpose of more easily transferring the ores of silver (duh), lead, gold, and copper from the mines around Silverton.

Much changed in the last one hundred and thirty years. The mines closed up. People went broke. The populous waned. Silverton burned down and was rebuilt. The railroad was bought and sold repeatedly. And, for a time, the Silverton Railroad even closed down.

The 1960s brought permanent and good changes to the narrow gauge line that snaked alongside the Animas River on a breathtaking journey between two old Colorado mining towns. First, the line became a National Historic Landmark. Then Hollywood, which had earlier included the railway in several movies including Around the World in 80 Days, returned to the forty five mile section of track for the filming of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Finally, the blossoming tourist industry fueled and financed the complete over hall of the line. Coal fired steam engines were repaired to near factory condition, remodeled coaches included restrooms and heat, gondolas were added for maximum viewing, and the track was replaced. Only the great mountains remained the same.

Today there are trains running back and forth along Colorado's last free flowing river (no damned dams!) throughout much of the year. (Click here for the schedule and fees) The ride up or down takes a little over three hours. That is three hours of prime landscape viewing in the photogenic San Juan Mountains. Tourists can choose to ride up to Silverton by train for a walking tour and then back to Durango by rail in one day. Or they might want to travel up by bus (65 min) in the morning and then return on the train in the afternoon. Six hours on a train is a long time unless you are a train buff who wants to spend all day on a train or a nature lover (like me!!) who wants to travel through the incredible Animas River Canyon two times. Either way, you will enjoy the ride!

If you have been there, done that, then reminisce. If you haven't been so lucky, then wet your appetite! Click the first of my photos and enjoy the slideshow.  ST

Silverton hot spots!

Great cafe/bakery/brewery!!!
Get to the train EARLY!!! When the whistle blows
it is leaving town. Trust me, I know!
A source of bad beer is no more.
A source of great rum has expanded!
 The train ride needs no descriptors.

The Durango Hostel is premium value!
Met these new cycling friends while camping along
the railroad line (behind them).