Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Park blitz 2 from black canyons to sandpits

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, 2 Days. Accommodation: Montrose. Attraction: Canyons

A less well known canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a surprise in its depth, breadth and colour. It was as impressive as any we had seen but is not as well frequented as some of its cousins. After a day exploring its many viewpoints and hiking trails on the south side we headed up to Sunset Point to watch the sun go down. We were the only ones there; the only sounds we could here were the flowing river and crickets. Such an incredibly peaceful moment. Just after the sun went down another couple arrived; we left to let them have their turn at the solitude.

The canyon was produced by a myriad of geologic events starting with volcanoes 1.7 billion years ago, then an uplift of land 70 million years ago to more volcanoes 26 million years ago. Then carved exquisitely by the Gunnison River over a period of about 2 million years at the rate of the thickness of a human hair per year to create a foreboding, dark and mesmerising canyon that is up to 1 kilometre deep. This did not sound right to me; surely the canyon is way more than 2 million hairs deep. Sceptic as I was I decided to put my friend Google to work. Google, what is the width of a human hair? The answer comes back: 0.02mm or 20 micrometres. Google, what is 0.02 times 2,000,000 in metres? The answer comes back as 1016m. That is basically a km. Thanks, Google. So amazing how such tiny changes over a long period of time can create something so beautiful.

The next day we went to look at the other side, and after a visit to the ranger station decided to hike the Curecanti Creek Trail. The trail winds its way down to the river and then follows it as it cascades continuously over rocks as we cross several bridges until finally finishing at a sandy beach where the river widens into a more peaceful vista. The hike reminded us of trekking in Nepal. Anyone national park hunting like us should definitely put this on your must see list.

Colorado Springs

Next we went to Colorado Springs, not a park, but we wanted to take the highest cog railway in the world to the top of Pikes Peak, over 4000m. It completes the 2000m in altitude change in just over an hour but the difference in temperature is phenomenal. At the top they had a blizzard the day before; fresh snow covered everything like a blanket and I could only handle being outside for about 10 minutes at a time. After about 40 minutes they take you back down.

Colorado Springs had more than just the train: many mountains, waterfalls and hiking trails, but one other thing it is famous for is The Garden of the Gods. Not a garden in the traditional sense but a garden of rocks. Charles Perkins and his family gifted it to the State on the condition it will always be free, cared for, protected and maintained as a public park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park. 1 Day. Accommodation: Motel just outside the park or Alamosa. Attraction: Giant sand dunes.
Sunrise over the sand dunes from our patio

Seriously, only in America would a giant sand pit get turned into a national park. This huge 604 square km of sand dunes comes out of nowhere. They are the tallest in North America and start at an altitude of about 2000m. While we were hiking on the sand dunes (the done thing to do) the thought crossed my mind as to why I am hiking a sand dune. The only answer I could come up with is, because it is there. It was fun and the views from the top were impressive. There was silence and a feeling of solitude as there were not many other hikers up high, with panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and nothing but rolling sandhills on the other and crisp blue sky above. Once we got lower there were people with boogie boards having fun in the sand.
Trekking in the mountains across the road


Finally we stopped in at Durango to take a trip on the steam train to Silverton. This narrow gauge train spends 3 hours travelling through some incredible scenery, winding around tall mountains with canyon views, running alongside the bubbling and churning river and through luscious forests with their trees changing colour. I really don't think the steam part is necessary but it's nice being in historical train carriages and feeling like you are in a cowboy movie. The town of Silverton, where you stay for 2 hours, has an Old Western town theme complete with Old West interiors.

Well, we only went there for the train and set off the next day for our last 3 national parks, and boy, did we save some awesome ones for last.....

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