Last weekend we left Ouray and headed to Montrose. We only traveled about 35 miles north, but it might as well be a world away. Gone are the towering craggy mountains and quaint streets filled with Victorian buildings. Instead we are surrounded by flat ranch land, chain box stores, and suburban developments. At least we can still see the mountains looming in the distance.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not really disappointed in Montrose. In fact, it’s about what we expected. The main reason we’re staying here is because it’s the biggest town around (the biggest one on our planned route that is) and it has the necessary store that we need to replace our RV batteries. I’ll spare you the boring details, but basically we’ve been having problems with our batteries for a while now. We had one replaced under warranty back in Tucson, and then another one failed in Moab. Since they are still under warranty we need to visit a store that carries the same brand we already have. Hence, our stay in Montrose. The saga is ongoing as it appears that Interstate is not going to stand behind their product like we had hoped. Whatever happens though, we’ll be leaving town with two new batteries. So you see, for all of you out there who think we’re really just on an extended vacation, sometimes even full-time RVrs have to sacrifice fun for the practical side of things.
We are once again staying at an RV Park. This one doesn’t have riverside sites, and the sites are really narrow. But since the site on one side of us is empty, and the site on the other side contains an Airstream the exact same size as us, we don’t feel as boxed in as last time. Two weeks in a row at an RV park is not ideal, but for the rest of our time in Colorado, we will either be staying at public parks or boondocking, so we can’t complain too much.
Even though it’s not a funky mountain town, Montrose does have some cool attractions. The most popular draw to the area is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Black Canyon is an incredibly deep, narrow, and steep forty-eight-mile gash in the earth. At its narrowest point the canyon measures only forty feet across along the bottom where the Gunnison River flows, and 1,100 feet across at the rim. At its deepest point the enormous cliffs that make up the canyon rise 2,722 feet above the river bed. The configuration of the canyon makes it hard to process with the human eye, much less capture in a photograph.
While there are not very many longer hiking trails in the park, we did find one nice two-mile loop that started at the visitor center and meandered through the trees and wildflowers while offering glimpses of the canyon below.
Many of the low growing shrubs are in bloom right now and we were treated to an awesome multi-hued meadow scene as we headed back to the visitor center.
After the hike we drove along the main park road, stopping at all the pull-offs offering different views of the canyon. The photo below shows my favorite view from the Pulpit Rock Overlook. You can really see the structure of the canyon and the river below. Notice how the canyon walls on the left are very steep and rocky, while the walls on the right are slopping with more vegetation? Basically what you’re seeing is the result of a dramatically different rate of erosion on each side of the canyon. The south-facing side of the canyon (on the left) is bathed in sunlight for most of the day, so any moisture that falls there quickly evaporates. In contrast, the north facing wall (on the right) is shaded for much of the day, allowing the moisture to accumulate. For various reasons the moisture causes erosion and helps the rocks break down into the soil, which in turn spawns plant life. Pretty neat right?
At the next overlook, we could see the road coming into the rim from the north side of the canyon. Like the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon has both a north and south rim that is open for exploration. Also like the Grand Canyon, there is no bridge to the other side. If you want to visit the north rim of Black Canyon it means a long drive around. There was a great sounding hike on the north rim that climbed up into the mountains, but it was almost a two hour drive to get there, so we decided to skip it.
At the next overlook, another couple informed us that some rock climbers were on the ledge across the canyon. It took us a couple minutes to locate them. They were about two-thirds of the way up, and to the naked eye looked like tiny ants clinging to the side of the cliff. Below is zoomed photo of one of the climbers. Her shirt was a similar color to the rocks so she’s a bit hard to see.
Here’s the zoomed out version of the same photo. The cliff actually goes down a ways farther to the bottom of the canyon. We were wondering how long it took them to get up that far. Since it was late in the afternoon, it’s possible that they had been climbing that cliff all day. Not my idea of a good time, but kudos to them for having the bravery and physical strength to make that crazy climb.
Our final stop was at an overlook called Painted Cliff. The jagged stripes in the rock were formed a million years ago when molten lave squeezed its way into fractures and joints in the cliff and then cooled. The colors were a bit muted during our visit, but I imagine that in the morning when the sun shines on this rock face, it’s a pretty amazing sight. Equally as impressive is the size of this cliff. At 2,300 feet tall Painted Cliff is the highest cliff in Colorado, and almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building. How’s that for some interesting geography facts to liven up your Tuesday?
There were still a few more lookouts after Painted Rock, but since it was late afternoon we decided to make this our last stop. We’ll be in Montrose until Saturday and I’ve been busy researching more adventures for us to go on. There’s quite a bit of hiking in the area, and a long riverside trail that Phineas is sure to love.