Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
I was 9 years old and seeing the mountains of Colorado for the first time the last time I was here. Frankly, the only thing I remember of it from back then is the name. It kind of scared me.
It is a National Park, a deep gorge, a wild river, a cross-section of geography, and a wilderness where humans are temporary visitors at best. From the Visitor Center parking lot, a glimpse of the scale of its depth is merely a tease.
After a good night’s sleep, we walked the canyon rim from the campgrounds to the Visitor Center and got a closer look.
The early morning silence, the delicate frost in the shadows, the warm fragrance of juniper and sage, the glimmer of rushing water at the canyon floor…I had stepped into a holy sanctuary that Sunday morning and wept with awe and joy…and sadness.I feel the threat to wild land as a pain deep in my gut. The river that carved this place is running high this year and being “managed” and diverted and manipulated to provide irrigation and recreation and serve a host of human needs. I don’t know how all the demands are weighed on this issue. My desire is to listen to the place itself, to let it simply Be, and to learn what I can with my brain, my heart, and my soul.
A volunteer guided us on a wildflower walk later that afternoon and introduced us to Western species new to us. Many of the Gambel oaks had just budded when that late snowstorm hit, and their tiny, crisp, shriveled leaves looked woefully sad. They are a hardy bunch and will hopefully recover, but the acorn yield in the fall will likely be diminished. The colorful blooms along the trail seemed to be not at all harmed.
This plant tour proved very useful. We saw a lot of Oregon grape, which is quite common and looks a lot like poison oak when it shows up as just three leaves with a reddish tinge. However, it does get additional leaves and yellow flowers which make it obviously distinct.
We set out Friday, May 19 from Wisconsin at 5:00 a.m., sunrise behind us, tornadoes ahead. Crossing Kansas, the sky sat heavy and dark all around; the radio announced storm details for counties we couldn’t identify on our general road map. We drove perpendicular to them, it turns out, and emerged awed and unscathed into nighttime in Colorado. After two brief naps in the car at the side of the road, we met the sunshine in Pueblo and stopped for breakfast in Cañon City. The tourist attractions don’t impress us. We choose our town stops based on U.S. Forest Service offices. Picking up maps and asking questions is right up there with filling the gas tank and eating a meal. Although the office was not yet open, the kiosk outside was full of helpful information. After breakfast, we made our way up through Royal Gorge into the mountains toward Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. A late spring storm had dumped record-breaking inches of snow throughout the Rockies just two days before, and some roads were still impassable. We would see more consequences of that storm in the days to come.
I try to be mindful of the adventure of traveling. It is so much more than the preparation and packing, the sights out the window and the passage of time. How do I respond to discomfort? To contrast? To expectations and disappointment? What am I looking for? What is important to me? What do I feel?
And then…how do I turn away from my ego and discover what this place is? What is its pace? Its scale? Its history? Its character?
Getting out of the car is a big step. Leaving a computer screen, a phone screen, and a windscreen behind opens up a new world. The Earth smells amazing. Heat and cold feel amazing. Being surrounded by living things is truly amazing. And that’s a good place to begin. I am amazed, humbled, ready to open up to new experience.
I can totally relate to Cheri’s picture of taking a boardwalk path through a fragile eco-system.
I can also relate to my personal path changing dramatically in 2016. I, too, moved to a new place – to be closer to my job – and then experienced an abrupt twist in the path when my boss resigned. Paths can always lead to the unexpected, even a path you’ve traveled many times before.
Humans have a strong tendency to try to control and predict, to make crooked paths straight, to eliminate as much random chaos as possible. And that means we can often be frustrated, disappointed, or anxious on the path we’re traveling. But we don’t have to be. We can be delighted, wonder-filled and accepting. The path is what it is. How you travel and with what baggage is up to you.
I wish I’d taken my camera up to Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument. I did not. But those ladders were thrilling! Here’s a shot from tripadvisor.com:
The descent is about 140 feet. Not bad. Another favorite spot is Holy Hill in Wisconsin. There are 178 steps in the tower.
Hiking in New Mexico and Texas this month led us down into some beautiful canyons: Mills Canyon (1000 ft. elevation change)…
…and our favorite, the ‘strenuous’ 1500 ft. Lost Peak trail that gave us views down into Dog Canyon and to our riparian campground on the other side.
Of course, in hiking, what goes down frequently also comes up. Steve turns 50 tomorrow, so we’re working on keeping our knees in shape! Which way is more difficult depends…he beats me uphill, I beat him downhill. (‘Course, he’s 6’2″ and I’m just 5’4″ and we’re weighted differently because of gender…and because I carry a pack and he doesn’t.)
May all your ‘down days’ include scenery like this!
(scroll down for another Halloween post ‘treat’!)