Our first national park of 2017! In fact, other than our Florida trip this is the earliest we’ve ever made it to a park for the first time in a new year. We’d been planning this trip with our friends Cees and Madison from Our Vie Adventures for a while, and I was super stoked to see it finally come to fruition. (Also, woohoo! We’ve officially made it to over a third of the parks! Sure, it’s taken us five years, but to be honest we didn’t really start getting super serious about this until 2015, so we’ll call it two years. ;))
We met up with Cees and Madison on Sunday morning after we had driven down to Grand Junction the night before. I’m a ridiculous fan girl, but I was pretty stoked to pull into the campground and see that little RV toodling down the loop right in front of us. We joked that now we know what it’s like to date online and then finally meet in person! After we picked a site we headed out to the 1pm ranger snowshoe tour of the Oak Flat Nature Trail.
Our ranger, Nick, was awesome! We had a pretty small group, and the four of us hit it off with him right away. But how can we not, when we love the parks as much as we do? The weather was very cloudy and mysterious, the canyon looked INCREDIBLE with all of the bands of mist. I kept thinking about Emyn Muil (an impassable labyrinth of razor sharp rocks!) and was definitely feeling like we had stepped into Middle Earth. It did rain/drizzle on and off, which was a bit chilly, and I was grateful for layers!
The very best part was pretty close to the end of our tour, when we descended to a spot overlooking the canyon where you could see down to the river. As we were hiking in, the mist was clearing, and it cleared almost completely when we arrived at the final spot. We stood and watched as the fog then rolled back in. I wish so much that we could have gotten a timelapse of it- it was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed. It was otherworldly, and the timing was impeccable. I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience it, especially with three of my best friends in the world.
After we finished up the tour, we hung out in the visitor center, got our stamps, and chatted with Ranger Nick (for almost an hour, oooops). We geeked out over fun maps (“glossy Ps” as a friend of Madison’s calls them) and talked a little more about the history of the area and the park. After that we headed back to camp for dinner, and I have to say, RV “camp cooking” puts all others to shame. Being able to make garlic bread in the oven and spaghetti on the stove while comfortably ensconced in the warm RV was pretty perfect.
Monday morning dawned pretty bleak and gloomy- we were COMPLETELY socked in. We had planned on trying to hike out to the Painted Wall overlook (probably the most iconic spot in Black Canyon), but with how dense the fog was we decided it would be better to wait for Tuesday, when the weather was supposed to be sunny. We went back to the visitor center, watched the video, bought Cees and Madison’s sticker and patch, and spent even more time chatting with Nick. I won’t lie, it was kind of nice to have a ranger all to ourselves to talk about our favorite places and spaces and ask more questions. The park was so deserted, I think we saw maybe a dozen other people besides the rangers the whole three days we were in the park. Definitely less than 20 people, for sure. It was a little strange, but also a pretty special experience to have the park pretty much to ourselves. So I suppose that’s my number one recommendation for Black Canyon, go in the winter!
After kicking around for most of the early afternoon, we decided to head in to town to refill their propane tank, and to eat at this Nepalese place I’d read about as being really good (on Summit Post, of all places). It was called Guru’s, and it WAS really good, but definitely a ton of food! The naan especially was amazing- I honestly could have just eaten naan. We followed up our Montrose excursion with a rousing game of National Park Yahtzee- Madison got the only Yahtzee on the very last roll of the whole game, but Cees still came up victorious.
Finally, to our happiness, Tuesday morning dawned sunny and clear! I was so relieved. As fun as it was to just hang out, it definitely gladdened my heart that the hike we’d planned was going to work out after all. In the winter they only plow the road to the visitor center, but you can still walk, ski, or snowshoe along the 6-mile (one way) remainder of the Rim Drive. We’d originally thought about snowshoeing, but we ended up just going with our grippy shoes (Speedcross in Brady’s and my case, and boots with Yaktrax for Cees and Madison). The hike in (right around 4 miles) went quickly and easily! It was sunny and beautiful and warm. We stopped at several of the overlooks to take photos before we finally made it to the ultimate goal- the Painted Wall.
It was WORTH IT. (And yes, I’m even still saying that after the complete slog that was our hike out.) It was absolutely massive, almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building, and filled with the light-colored pegmatite intrusions across its face. Standing on the edge of that sheer drop was definitely a little nerve-wracking!
I’ll be the first to admit that the hike out was tough. I’m definitely not in the best shape of my life, but the way in that had seemed flat was actually a gentle decline, and hiking out in the now-slushy snow uphill was rough. We did a lot of single-file hiking to step in each others’ footprints, but that definitely got a little dizzying and monotonous. I was crazy grateful to see the plowed road again after four miles of slipping and sliding and walking on unstable ground! It was rewarding, but definitely hard.
After that we stopped to grab Vladimir Kitten to do our sign photos, and then back to the RV to get our stuff all separated so we could head on our merry (well, not-so-merry, we were sad) ways.
This park was a GREAT way to kick off the year. It is such a gem! I definitely am planning to go back in the summer when we can hike to the river, and do some climbing, but it was pretty special to go in the winter as well. It just goes to show that many of our parks can be enjoyed no matter the season.
Our Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park “Must Do”:
Aside from visiting in the winter (haha), the Painted Wall is NOT to be missed. It is simply incredible. The whole Rim Drive is gorgeous, and even in the summer I’d recommend walking if you can.