It is only a 2.5 hour drive from Blue Mesa Reservoir to Colorado National Monument, where I was booked for three nights of July 4th weekend. The speed limit is 65 on much of this section, but it’s curvy. I couldn’t do it in the truck yesterday, much less with the Airstream today. It is a very pretty drive, up over the big mountain, past the Cimarron River and a long descent into a dry valley.
I stopped for gas and refilled propane in both tanks in Montrose. Turning north, Rt. 50 follows Uncompahgre River in a high desert. A sign welcomed me to the Gateway to the Canyons. Million Dollar Highway turns south from Montrose, but no time for that on this trip! There is Canyons of the Ancients National Monument to the southwest, and of course Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. The list goes on and on, but I followed 50 to Colorado National Monument.
I arrived at the south entrance to the park, which I knew nothing about. The office was closed, but a sign stopped me: “Tunnels. Clearance 18’ in the middle and 10’6” on the side”. Most of you remember I tore the air conditioner off the roof in New Hampshire going through a covered bridge. It’s all Kelly’s fault really. I can get away saying that, because he can’t figure out how to comment. I did not want that experience again! 10’6″ is my clearance at the air conditioner, so probably would be OK.
I read the map, describing a winding climb up a huge mesa and a one-hour drive winding along the edge to the visitor’s center and Saddlehorn Campground, where I was staying. Several people gave me irritated looks for blocking the sign, but I wasn’t moving. I walked back down the road to reread the sign. Yep, 10’6” on the side. I’d probably make it. I walked over to a building with park service cars parked. A park service lady drove up, rolled down her window, asking if I needed help as she put on her mask.
“Can I drive that trailer through those tunnels?” “Probably” she said. “I am amazed how people drive those things on that road. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.” I thanked her and went back to the trailer. GPS told me it was only a 20-minute drive to the north entrance, so I turned around and went that way, winding through beautiful houses with incredible views.
No one was at that gate either, but you still have to go through two tunnels. I reminded myself there was a campground up there as I navigated the narrow, winding road with drop-offs of increasing heights. I hate heights. I couldn’t help but borrow more than my share of the yellow line. Fortunately there was little traffic. I drove through the middle of the tunnels, very slowly. With a sigh of relief, I found the top and a turn into the campground. I found A19 to be just a pullover. A huge Class A camper with slide-outs and all was across the street, where a lady sat in the shade reading a book.
The elevation is 5,500’. It was full sun, 88 degrees with 18% humidity. I couldn’t level the camper, even after trying 20 times. I imagined the lady peering over her book, laughing at me. Sweating and tired, I gave up with 3.5” slant to the starboard. I was afraid to open the street-side awning and windows, but with no hookups, it had to be done. I imagined some drunken person taking out a window, or all three of them. Later the big rig would open his slide-out, further narrowing the road.
I ate lunch and took a monster nap with both fans blowing full bore. I woke up groggy, putzing around searching for some energy. At 4:00 I thought I would take a short drive and see what this place is all about. My map said there was an overlook in the campground. Perfect!
It was a nature trail. OK, I need some exercise, so I headed out, tripod and camera in hand. I didn’t have to go far before the trail led to the edge of a canyon. With a gasp of hot, dry air, I woke up. It was a spectacular view of “The Heart of The World”. The Utes treasure this as a sacred place, doing the spring bear dance every year.
It is on a grand mesa on the west side of a big valley, the Rockies on the other side with the great Colorado River running through it.
I was tired from three hard days of driving and1865 miles. 700 miles yesterday. I went into Gunnison to get gas, groceries, ice and find a library so I could post. I stopped at a pullover to watch a man standing in the Gunnison River fishing. He had little luck, but I had fun watching white throated swifts flying like jet fighters to catch bugs for breakfast.
The grocery store was packed. It’s a big weekend and all the touristas are in town. Everyone had masks on, but I tried to get the job done and get out. The only library was at Western Colorado University, and it was closed. With my phone, I can post text, but uploading pictures eats data, and reception is often inadequate for the job.
I went back to camp for lunch and a little relaxation. At 3:00 I drove about an hour on Rt. 50 across a big mountain to get to Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park. The road up to the park and through the park is winding and steep. This is not a place to pull the trailer!
The beautiful Gunnison River flows through Gunnison, into Blue Mesa Reservoir and somehow gets to the other side of this big mountain. As it turns out, it goes through it! A sign tells us of millions of years in development through volcanoes and earthquakes, it used to be a great sea, but is now a river cutting its way through a mountain of solid rock.
I arrived at Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park stopping briefly at the closed visitor’s center, but rangers were outside answering questions. It is a drive along the gorge, also known as Gunnison Gorge National Park. Looking down into this chasm in the earth is impressive. Rain clouds just made it more dramatic. There was no charge to get in this year, and there was a steady flow of people. I didn’t make all the overlooks as I was running out of energy. I also wanted to see it from the north side. Maybe next time.
OK, The Loneliest Road isn’t so lonely here, and it travels through some spectacular country, especially here
One of the highlights of the park is a cruise up Western Brook Pond. There is a 45-minute walk in. They want to make sure you get your exercise in Gros Morne! We were almost last in line, and watched people scramble for seats on top, the front of the boat and the rear. We were left with inside seats, not the best for taking pictures. After a short while, I found a spot up front, which was fine.
This fiord was made first by colliding of tectonic plates and then carved out by multiple glaciers. There was an opening to the sea at first, but then closed off. Our narrator said this is some of the purest water on Earth. There are very few nutrients here, so there are no fish. Magnificent cliff walls line the fiord with waterfalls in many places, one being called Pissing Mare Falls.
Our narrator pointed out a rock slide that occurred at a precise time on a certain date. They knew because a tour boat was traveling by. They had given us emergency instructions at the beginning of the cruise. Now I could see the possibility of a bad emergency in this very cold water.
The last 20 minutes of the ride became a music festival, as our guide played Newfoundland music while he played the spoons, and then passed several pair around for others to try. Martha took right to it.
As we got off the boat, several boys pointed out trout sitting under the docks, and there were some big ones.
Green Point and was our view in back of our campsite
Green Point with two Adirondack chairs in the distance
At 10:00 we went to Green Point to hear a geology lecture. Chris Rohrback gave the talk, and she was great. She has a way of making a difficult subject simpler and fun. It is the eroded remnants of a mountain range formed 1.2 billion years ago. “The park provides a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth’s mantle lie exposed.” (Centre, UNESCO World Heritage).
Gros Morne became a national park 1973, but it was for the geological studies that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex nature of a tremendous upheaval a billion years ago made for a lifetime study by Robert Stevens and Harold Williams, who established the concept of tectonic plate movement.
This site offers a unique, exposed view of the plates turned vertical so you can readily see all the layers. Chris explained how the world was one supercontinent, before Africa and Europe pulled away, drifting to the east, leaving parts of Africa and Spain along the east coast of Newfoundland. Parts of these Appalachian Mountains went with Europe and can still be seen today.
These mountains were the size of the Himalayas. Thousands of years of erosion have reduced their size, and glaciers gouged out U-shaped valleys, pushing boulders all the way to the ocean and this beach. There are layers of sediment, shale (compacted mud), limestone, soapstone and whatever the other one was. “Here geologists discovered fossils that define the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods and makes Green Point a world geological benchmark.” (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/activ/decouverte-tours/gp)
Once a thriving fishing village, there are many restrictions today.