Canyon Drops, Alpine Passes

Our next few days activities, unfortunately, weren’t dog appropriate. So on Monday morning, we dropped off Charley at Ouray Dog Company for her own little R & R and Bijan and I took off for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in central Colorado.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the lesser known national parks. It is a steep canyon with jagged sides, and it earned its name because of the steep and narrow parts that allow sunlight to reach its sides for such a short time during the day that the walls appear black.

We had gone to the visitors center the day prior to obtain wilderness permits to hike into the inner canyon. They only allow a certain number of hikers into the canyon each day. We decided to hike a trail known as the Gunnison Route, which is a steep and strenuous trail that drops 1800 feet of elevation in 1.5 miles to get to the inner canyon. Descending the rim is actually more difficult than climbing back out. The trail is not marked and requires some pathfinding particularly on the way back up to not get lost.

We descended into the canyon, having to get on all fours at times due to the grade, and using the chains provided for the steep parts of the path. There were a lot of vertical pitches with loose rocks and dirt, so having careful footing was a must.

Once we arrived at the bottom of the canyon, we explored the floor, walking up and down the Gunnison river that was roaring and moving swiftly beside us. We dipped our feet in the freezing water. The green trees and brush were a beautiful contrast to the rusted canyon walls.

We spent about 2 hours hanging out at the bottom of the canyon and hopping rock to rock beside the river. We saw only a few other people in the canyon; it was so quiet and peaceful.

Our hike up was strenuous but not nearly as slippery. It required some decision-making in which trail to take. When ascending the canyon, there are several splits where multiple directions look like they could be the correct trail. Thankfully, we had been told this by the ranger the night before, so we had paid attention on our descent to the questionable turns. We had even taken videos and set waypoints on our phones on our way down so that we would remember. We second guessed ourselves a few times, but all in all made it up to the rim without difficulty.

Once we reached the rim, we drove around to some of the overlooks. We quickly decided to abort that plan. The rim drive was very accessible and there were throngs of people at each overlook. Having had the inner canyon, for the most part, to ourselves, it just didn’t feel as special. We decided to head back to camp, shower, and go grab dinner.

We drove down to the town of Ouray to have dinner. Ouray is a quaint little town with a western feel that sits in a canyon and is very scenic.

After dinner, we headed back to Ridgway State Park, where we were camping, to get a good night’s sleep before our next adventure: off-roading.

Southwestern Colorado is loaded with networks of off-roading trails through the mountains. Bijan and I had rented dune buggies in Sedona before, and had the best time, so we decided that our one big excursion of the trip was going to be renting a 4×4 and going off-roading through the mountains.

We rented a RZR UTV out of a company in Silverton, CO (Rock Pirates), about an hour drive from the campground. We left early Tuesday morning for Silverton, following the “million dollar highway” from Ouray to Silverton, that weaves through the mountains. Our drive was very eventful, as we got stopped about 10 minutes before we reached town, and sat in stand-still traffic for 20 minutes, so that a film crew in a truck and helicopter could film a truck racing down the highway (we never found out what movie was being filmed).

We grabbed a quick cup o joe once we got to town and picked up the rental. We had booked a full day, which provided us enough time to complete the “Alpine Loop,” a 72-mile off roading trail that weaves through the San Juan Mountains, through forests, old mining ghost towns, and over mountain passes.

We had an incredible day on the road. The loop was very scenic with 360 degree mountain views, incredible foliage and we saw an abundance of wildlife. We took turns driving on the bumpy dirt and rock roads, at times steep with sheer drop-offs. See below for photos of our adventures:

Mountain vistas:


Mining ghost town of Animas Forks:

Wild life that we saw: Mama, papa and baby moose, a fox, bighorn sheep and marmots

After our adventure, we headed back to Ouray to pick up our pup, and then back to the campground for some dinner and planning for the days ahead!

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