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2016 Summer Mountain Trip Part 21; Colorado State Route 347, South Rim Road, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

After leaving Colorado National Monument via Monument Road and Colorado State Route 347 I made turn eastward on US Route 50 in Grand Junction.  My next destination was to the southeast at the end of Colorado State Route 347 at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.


This article serves as the 21st entry in the 2016 Summer Mountain Trip Series.  Part 20 covers Colorado National Monument and Rim Rock Drive.

2016 Summer Mountain Trip Part 20; Colorado National Monument and Rim Rock Drive

The south entrance of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (I'll be short handing to "Black Canyon" so it doesn't take to write from hereon in) is accessed by via the 5.2 mile long CO 347.  CO 347 begins east of Montrose and makes a fast ascent northward to the south entrance of Black Canyon near Jones Summit.  The route that ultimately became CO 347 was added to the State Highway System in 1939 but can be seen as a locally maintained road on the 1939 Rand McNally Highway Map of Colorado.


The first map that clearly shows CO 347 is the 1947 Shell Highway Map of Colorado.


Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park protects a 12 mile portion of the namesake canyon along the Gunnison River.  Black Canyon is thusly named due to the fact that it's extremely steep nature only allows an average of 33 minutes of sunlight to reach it's bottom daily.  Black Canyon is the 5th steepest mountain side descent on the North American continent.  By comparison Black Canyon is about five times steeper than the Grand Canyon.

Although Black Canyon had been known to local tribes the first American to discover it was John Williams Gunnison in 1853.  In 1881 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had reached Gunnison and the route west was plotted through part of Black Canyon.  The first passenger train through the eastern segment of Black Canyon arrived in August of 1882.  Ultimately surveys recommended that the railroad was unfeasible through the steepest parts of Black Canyon it was instead routed to the south.  The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad can be seen being routed around most of Black Canyon on the 1882 New Railroad and County Map of Colorado.   In 1890 a new route of the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad through Glenwood Springs was constructed and the Black Canyon route began to decline before being ultimately abandoned in the 1950s. 


In March 1933 much of Black Canyon was declared a National Monument.  The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the North Rim Road between 1933 through 1935.  The South Rim Road (which is the continuation of CO 347) appears to have been constructed around the same time.  Black Canyon was elevated to a National Park in October 1999 and currently encompasses 30,750 acres.

The South Rim Road has twelve view points beyond the terminus of CO 347.


The start of my drive on South Rim Road began with the intersection with East Portal Road.  East Portal Road heads towards the Gunnison Diversion Dam which I ultimately skipped in 2016.  My first stop on South Rim Road was at Tomichi Point which looks eastward into Black Canyon.


My next stop on South Rim Road was at the Park Visitor Center for a look from Gunnison Point.  I should note that the hiking trails through most of Black Canyon lie above an elevation of 8,000 feet and tend to be on the shorter side.


Next along South Rim Road I stopped at the Cross Fissures View.


South Rim Road begins to swing westward.  I stopped and hiked the Rock Point Trail out to the rim of Black Canyon.


Just west of the Rock Point Trail the Devil's Lookout Trail can be accessed from South Rim Road.


From the Devil's Lookout Trail I next stopped west on South Rim Road at the Chasm View.


From the Chasm View I hiked the Painted Wall Trail to the namesake formation.  Painted Wall is the tallest sheer cliff in Black Canyon at 2,250 feet.  The lighter rocks in Painted Wall is pegmatite.



From Black Canyon's south rim I turned to US 50 via CO 347.  My next destination was south on US 550 and the Million Dollar Highway. 

2016 Summer Mountain Trip Part 22; US Route 550, the Million Dollar Highway, and San Juan Skyway

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