Arriving at Black Canyon

Something was wrong, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I noticed the hubcaps on my rental car looked warped and out of place. I shouldn’t have gone on those rough roads in Saguaro and Capitol Reef, I thought. I’ve knocked the hubcaps out of place. This had been on my mind for a few days, but there was nothing I could do about it until now. I was finally amidst real civilization. I was in Grand Junction, Colorado with all the amenities of corporate America at my fingertips. I pulled up to a Walmart Auto Care Center to inquire about my hubcaps.

“Can you just have a look and tell me what’s wrong.” I guided the mechanic across the parking lot to my car.

“Oh, well they were put on wrong in the first place.” He informed. He peeled the hubcaps away from the rims of the wheels. “You should be fine now.” I was relieved that it was an easy fix and to see normal looking hubcaps again. I thanked the man and went into the Wal Mart to stock up on supplies. I felt I owed them a purchase. Just prior I had eaten at a Del Taco, one of my go-to places when venturing out West. Those in the rest of the country wouldn’t know that a Del Taco is like a step above a Taco Bell, with fresher ingredients and more healthy and filling options, with fresh avocados and tomatoes. I sound like an advertising spokesperson when I talk about them, but I’m just a fan.

Prior to rolling into Grand Junction I had left Manti Lasal National Forest in Utah and had driven about two hours from Utah into Colorado. I had stopped to visit Colorado National Monument which largely sits high on a mountainous plateau of red rock, looking down across flatlands of colorado. I didn’t have much time to spare, but checked out a few view spots, including the popular Coke Ovens, which are large rounded rock formations that stick up in a row in a canyon.DSC04842

In my planning of these summer adventures I recall being first confused about what a National Monument was. In my mind a monument was a statue or some mounted object in honor of a specific event. This is not what a National Monument is. Rather they are very similar to National Parks. Most National Parks first start out as National Monuments. I once inquired about this to a park ranger. He explained that really the only difference is that a National Monument is a park unit created by a president, and a National Park is a unit created by an act of Congress. The major difference between the two is that National Parks tend to gain more tourism simply because of the title.

Colorado National Monument was my first ever impression of Colorado. I had seen photos of the Rocky Mountains and the Maroon Bells of Colorado, and I was heavily influenced by the pine trees, grey rocks, and snow-capped mountains. I was surprised to find so much red rock in Colorado. However being here, it just made sense, given that it lies right next to the red rock wonderland of Utah. Despite seeing beautiful photos of Colorado online, I had read several negative things about Colorado in the wake of it being the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use. 

Despite my preconceived notions, Colorado was surprising all around. It borrows from that which is beautiful in Utah, but adds in its own unique natural beauty. It has more people that Utah, with more frequent towns and cities and less feelings of isolation, with a population at 5.54 million, nearly doubling that of Utah. After visiting Colorado National Monument I descended into the city of Grand Junction, Colorado, with population around 61,000. The part of the city I saw appeared new and clean with wide and smooth properly constructed streets.

After spending days in remote areas, I always become so very appreciative of places like Grand Junction. Although in the course of typical life-living, supermarkets, fast food, restaurants, air conditioning, and all the amenities of modern America, become common place and stale, when I’ve been isolated from them for days and I come upon them again, it is genuinely exciting. In the moment there seems to be nothing better than the feeling the brisk  air conditioning, to feel the refreshing coldness of ice in my beverage and an unlimited supply of cold water, to find food already prepared and available in bounty. The ease and accessibility of all of these goods is make possible by corporate America, which is something to be grateful for. These businesses, despite recently being attacked, labeled, and stereotyped, provide incredible service, and are only possible in this great nation. Getting away and spending time in nature helps me become more appreciative of the simplicities of modern life that we enjoy and are so fortunate to have in the United States.

After having the hubcaps on the car adjusted, dining at Del Taco, and restocking on food at Walmart, I was ready to proceed as planned with the day’s agenda- to shower and workout in Montrose, set up camp, and do a little sightseeing in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The drive took me through the small town of Delta, which to me felt like stepping back in time to an era I wasn’t even alive to witness. Although it was a quiet place, its mainstreet had many businesses, not for tourism, but simply placed ordinarily with vintage looking facades. There was a general store, a fabric store, a jewelry shop, a small grocery store, and numerous little Mexican restaurants. Here I felt far away. The uniqueness and old timey feel made me aware of the distance I had traveled.

I proceeded into Montrose where I purchased a day pass to the Gold’s Gym. I was surprised that such a large and nice gym was located in such a small town. As I was working out, doing a little bit of everything, I observed the locals around me, wondering what life might be like for them, and wondering what they might do for work. I’m sure I didn’t stick out and that I blended in as just another guy at the gym. As they were doing their typical gym routines, going about ordinary life, here I was on an epic adventure, just paused for a moment in this small seemingly insignificant town, which really drew me to it for only one reason- a gym with a shower. How peculiar my situation was but well planned and executed.

After my workout and shower, I dug into my food supply in my trunk and enjoyed a cinnamon raisin bagel and a Muscle Milk. I followed it up with a grilled chicken wrap at the nearby McDonalds. I sat there in McDonalds and for a moment, I did feel a bit of loneliness. I remembered the lost opportunity to connect with the other solo adventurer at the McDonalds in Moab. I saw a family on the other side of the restaurant eating together. I wasn’t in some major touristy spot where I could relate to the gamut of people around me on adventures. I was in a small town. People were about ordinary life. I thought of many times I had tried to form friendships and relationships with people, but how they always bailed out on me. I thought about how long I had waited for people to go on adventures with and the reason I found myself out here alone was because I became tired of waiting and decided to move on alone. I thought about how all the incredible memories made would be mine and no one else could recollect them with me. I also thought about how all efforts to connect with people were not completely lost. There were my postcard buddies I had been writing. My two postcard buddies were new people to me. I wondered would this effort to connect with them be fruitful or was it all done in vain?  

Then I came back to my senses. I didn’t come all the way out to Colorado to sit in a McDonalds and feel sorry for myself. To make it out here alone, seeing so many beautiful places, and finding my way so effortlessly was an accomplishment of independence and something to be proud of. I picked myself off of that plastic McDonalds booth, emptied my tray into the trash and then it was onward to Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Approaching the park it was really hard to anticipate anything, because the terrain and the small town surrounding it were just so typical. But rather suddenly I came upon a giant break in the terrain, an enormous open wound in the landscape. A dark ominous gap dug sharply into the ground. I realized Colorado has surprises.

I have mixed feelings about this National Park. The canyon itself is surely impressive.  There is nothing I have seen quite like it. It is a very dramatic canyon with very sharp edges and rocks pointing and jutting up from it. The rock looked as if it had been violently chopped to carve the canyon. Standing by it, looking into it, I received the kind of awe I might encounter if i were to gaze upon the fictitious castle of a vile king. It is beautiful if you take the time to admire all its special peculiarities, but at first glance it looks rather uninviting. It’s not inspiring to me. It’s not like looking up at a mountain and losing yourself in the beauty of the moment. Black Canyon seems more like a warning from the forces of nature, a display of its violent ability. It’s dark, sharp, gaping, and hollow.

Prior to my trip I had entertained the idea of hiking down into the canyon to greet the Gunnison River, but I had read too many warnings of poison ivy overgrowth and how the descent is not much of a trail but a free for all which at parts require the hiker to lower himself by holding onto ropes and traversing the steep slopes of the canyon. I had not ruled out the possibility of descending into the canyon, but when I looked at it, I came to a conclusion. Sometimes I’ll see a mountain and have the nagging desire to summit it, like in Manti Lasal, but there was little to no desire to put myself at risk to place myself into a dark and ominous abyss.

“Will you take our photo,” a man asked me while I was looking over the edge into the depths.

“Sure,” I snapped the photo.

“Let me do the same for you,” the man offered to return the favor.

“No, it’s okay.” I replied.

“Oh come on, you need a picture,” He insisted. He struck me as very friendly. He took my photo, and it came out really well. I noticed his hat sported an Indiana school. I had to ask him where he came from. I met a couple from Indiana. When he asked me where I was from, I claimed Kentucky.

I proceeded further into the park to the visitor center. The park film was chock full of lots of interesting history about the canyon. This provided much more richness to my Black Canyon experience. I learned how the canyon was largely avoided until the 1900s. It’s river waters were so violent that wooden boats were turned to splinters by explorers. One successful survey of the canyon was done by a couple of men floating on a mattress.  Also the history of a railroad stretching along the sides of the canyon and the effort that went into constructing it was incredible.

History here is rich, but I was surprised to find that this place beared the title National Park. National Parks to me usually boast numerous features and plenty of opportunity for recreation. This park is small. There aren’t many trails, and the different features seem to be limited to view spots at just various angles of the same canyon and river. It seems unjust to place it in the same category as places like Yosemite or the Great Smoky Mountains or any National Park I had visited up until this point.

After squeezing in my stop to the visitor center before it closed, I backtracked a little bit on the road to set up camp at the South Rim campground. The terrain was part woodsy, part deserty. I wasn’t sure what animals might be around at night. Ever since I visited Sequoia National Park and was warned about black bears breaking into cars, I have become extra careful not to leave food items out in my vehicle. My campsite, which I had reserved online, was very private. The fire ring and picnic tables were in an open exposed area, but behind a row of tall shrubbery, was a place to set up the tent, completely shielded on all sides by growth. I quickly pitched True Blue and continued on the park drive, stopping at numerous viewpoints.

The two most notable view spots for me were Pulpit Rock, where long ago a minister
used this rock to deliver sermons to his congregation, also Painted Wall, which is a section of dark rock with bright white stripes running through it. This is another geological landmark I hadn’t noticed before, but afterward have seen it in ads and billboards. I had all intentions of being at Warner Point for sunset, seeing that right next to it on the map is labeled “Sunset View,” but again I was moments late for the sunset arriving at the point. It was okay. I was tired, and what I wanted most of all at this moment was a good night’s sleep.

I returned to my campsite in the dark, got ready for bed, and without reading, without thoughts to ponder, I flipped my switch and fell asleep.


Read the next entry “Starstruck in Rocky Mountain National Park, ” here:

Read the previous entry “Exploring the Uncharted,” here:



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