Geology and Birds in Black Canyon NP

Trip Start Aug 29, 2013
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Trip End Sep 15, 2013


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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Friday, September 6, 2013

Today we slept in as we were tired from the long day yesterday.  We had waffles etc. for breakfast and left about 9:30.  We are only 12 miles from the park so we got there shortly before 10:00 after a steep and winding road to the park.  We headed straight for the Visitor's Center and when we were about to go into the Center we noticed a hike with a ranger was about to begin we asked what the program was.  When she said Geology of the Black Canyon, we were hooked.  Our ranger was Jamie and she was originally from Astoria, OR.  There were 8 or 9 of us on the hike.  We hiked from the Visitor's Center back to the first Overlook at Tomichi Point.  It took us an hour to walk about 1/2 a mile as we stopped along the way as she told us the story of the formation of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It was pretty basic stuff like the three kinds of rocks, minerals in rocks, plate tectonics, mountain building and erosion.  The most interesting part was why the Gunnison River chose to cut through the hardest rocks in the area.  She did a demonstration with play doh and sand to show that the bump of gneiss and schist that was pushed up during the movement of plates was covered over by sedimentation from the West Elk Mountains on one side and the San Juan Mountains on the other.  Water naturally took the path of least resistance in removing the layers of sediment between the two mountain ranges, so when it finally eroded enough to expose the gneiss and schist it had no other channel to take.  I was fascinated as you can probably tell.  My favorite part of teaching Earth Science was Geology. 

Jamie told us that another ranger was giving a bird talk at 11:00 at Chasm View.  Well it was 11:00 then so we walked back on the road instead of the path, got in the car and drove 4 miles to Chasm View.  Ranger Mary Jane had just completed her program.  When another couple from our Geology walk came too for the program, she did it again just for the four of us.  She did a great job explaining each of the birds we might see flying in the canyon.  She had made life-size profiles of the birds as if they were flying overhead.  She told us about where each bird nests comparing them to how humans live.  She said that the Violet Green Swallows build little cabins far apart from each other.  The White-throated Swifts are more colonial and enjoy apartment living.  Canyon wrens nest where there is an overhang like a porch.  The Golden Eagle's profile was 7 feet across.  They nest on large open ledges and lay their eggs right on the rock.  The Peregrine Falcon nests on the top of isolated rock and she compared that to living in the penthouse.  The Turkey Vulture nests far away from humans.  Mary Jane told us that we were very lucky to have seen a Canyon Wren on our hike with Jamie as she had only seen one all summer.  She had the skulls of a Golden Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon and simulated eggs for them too.  She had stuffed animals of the Canyon Wren and the Peregrine Falcon that sang the song of each when you squeezed them.  She also had the call of the Golden Eagle for us to hear.  She showed us pictures of all the birds too.  It was another great program but it only took about 15-20 minutes. 

We decided to drive out to the end first and then go back to the overlooks we missed.  We tried to stop at Painted Wall but there were too many cars.  So we went to Cedar Point where there was also a great view of the painted wall which was schist and gneiss intruded with pegmatite, a type of granite, that makes the cliff walls full of streaks of lighter color.  We skipped the next stop in order to use the restroom at Sunset View.  Every viewpoint was unique and worth seeing.  It was about lunch time and there were picnic tables at Sunset View but they were in the sun, so we drove to the last stop which is called High Point.  There were more tables and plenty of larger trees, so we found one in the shade and had our lunch.  The view from High Point is not good unless you take the trail to Warner Point, a 1.4 mile round trip.  We were too hot to hike that far, so we headed back to hit the spots we had missed.  On the way back we stopped at Dragon Point and hiked out to the view.  We stopped at the Painted Wall View and found it not as good as the view at Cedar Point.  Devil's Lookout was another hike down and then up and the sun was relentless.  Earlier I had put socks on with my Tevas because my toes were baking in the sun.  We skipped Rock Point because it was another hike to get there and we could see it from Devil's Lookout.  We also skipped Cross Fissures because it was a long hike.  Our next stop was Pulpit Rock which gave us yet another view of the canyon.  Our final stop was the Visitor's Center where I bought a stuffed Canyon Wren like Mary Jane had.  It has such a sweet melodic song.  We went out on the back deck of the Center and saw yet another trail down to a view.  But we were "plum tuckered out" and decided not to do it. 

So we got in the car, turned on the air, and headed back to the East Portal Road which takes you down to the Gunnison River.  It was a wild road with 16% grades down the mountain and very tight curves.  So we went in low gear to save the brakes a little.  When we got down there we drove to where there is a campground and access for fishing and boats like kayaks.  There weren't many people there.  It was so quiet and shaded and the river looked pretty tame.  We ran into Ranger Jamie while we were there and talked to her for a while.  Then we drove toward Crystal Dam.  On the way we stopped at the Diversion Dam for the  six mile long Gunnison Tunnel that carries water for irrigation from the Gunnison River down to the valley where Montrose is located.  Mostly they grow potatoes but we also saw corn and beans.   So the name East Portal refers to the east end of the tunnel and when the tunnel was being built there was a town there called East Portal.   We drove along the river all the way back to where we could see Crystal Dam.  Then we started the trip back up the mountain.  The car was in low gear most of the way.

We left the park shortly before 4:00 and were back  to the hotel by 4:15.  I decided to do some laundry.  We both relaxed, me by reading email and Larry on his iPad.  When the laundry was mostly dry we hung up what wasn't quite dry in the bathroom and in the closet on hangers.  Then we went to Two Rascals Brewery where Larry had a Brown Ale and I had a Brown Root Beer.  They gave us free popcorn.  It was in an old building and it had a real industrial feel.  Then we went to Amelia's Hacienda for our meal.  Larry had Breckenridge Agave Wheat beer and I had a margarita, not as good as last night.  Larry ordered Tamales and I had a Chimichanga.  We got back to the motel about 8:00 and repacked everything we could.   I blogged and Larry read stuff on his iPad. 
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