Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Colorado NM, Black Canyon NP

Looking into the valley(s) from "Grand View" in Colorado National Park Waking up in Colorado National Monument

The night before, I had arrived in Colorado National Monument when it was already dark; and I hadn't looked at any Colorado guide prior to my trip departure. As such, I had no idea what would await me.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself on the rim of a valley, looking at big, red eroded rocks, lighted by the rays of the rising sun. I still don't know what to call those rocks - cliffs? mesas? My terminology is failing me.

A road is leading through the monument on an almost circular route, so as I progressed I looked into several canyons of sorts - and names like Bookcliff View, Grand View, or Cold Shivers Point didn't disappoint.

Still, I didn't stay long, mostly on account of my knee troubles and the fact that I wasn't in any position to do much hiking

Looking west at Sunset View in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Black Canon of the Gunnison

Instead, I spent about two hours in the car, heading to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The name brings to mind Grand Canyon, or a black version thereof; and the comparison is valid one... the scale and depth isn't unlike what one sees in the Tuweep section of Grand Canyon.

The canyon can be visited from either the North or South Rim. I opted to drive the viewpoints of the latter.

I stopped at all viewpoints, taking pictures and feeling slightly intimidated by how close one can get to the canyon rim, and how near the other side of the canyon rim is. The maximum depth (at Chasm View) is 2,722 feet, at which point the North Rim is only 1,100 feet away.

At one point, a man asked if I had been to Moab recently - it was plain to see why he would ask that: my car was still sprinkled in red mud from driving over a wet dirt road the day before.

After a quick lunch, I headed on. Unfortunately, the weather was getting gradually worse, and I could see I was heading straight into rainy weather. Alas, I didn't have much choice, for it seems I was surrounded by grey clouds.


As you approach it from the North on Highway 550, there really isn't really anything that prepares you for Ouray. It's a ghost town. But isn't. It's a mining town. But isn't. It's a tourist trap. But isn't. Basically, Ouray is a former mining town surrounded by mountains; and as you drive through main street there's lots of buildings that are around a hundred years old and have been tastefully restored or maintained. Sure, it's all being done to appeal to tourists, but I for once think it was done rather tastefully.

I walked up and down main street, taking various pictures and then headed south, as the road curved up into a mountain pass. Mining structures can virtually be seen everywhere, and looking at the mountains ahead, it soon became apparent why - even just the colour of the peaks gives away the fact that they must be filled with all kinds of minerals. Red Mountain, aptly named, shone in all shades of red even though the sky was overcast and no direct sunshine touched it.

Old mining structures along the million dollar highway near Ouray, Colorado I stopped a few times to take pictures of the various buildings in different states of disarray - some were still standing, others were threatening to collapse or had already done so.

The road I was driving on was named, the million dollar highway. The region has produced 4 million ounces of gold, 21 million ounces of silver and 12 million tons of lead, zinc and copper since its foundation in the 1870s.

Looking for a place to sleep

The weather was taking a change for the worse again, and I spent the remainder of the day driving; not even getting out to take any pictures... I would have been soaking wet within minutes.

I ended up looking for a place to sleep on Fox Mountain Road, a small dirt road that I had taken on a whim to get me away from the main highway. I knew that this was national forest land, which meant that dispersed camping is usually allowed. The biggest problem was finding a suitable spot: one where I wouldn't have to park on the road and risk getting run into by someone driving the road after nightfall. I also didn't want to park near the river that ran through the valley - I prefer the quiet over the sounds of water. I finally found a suitable place after a bit of searching, and quickly retired to my sleeping bag. For the first half hour, I was still slightly spooked by all the wilderness surrounding me - this was bear country, after all. But then again, I told myself, chances of having any encounter with wildlife, especially while in the car, were probably smaller than being shot in a comfortable hotel somewhere in a city... so I dozed off, and got another good night's rest.

Miles driven: 339mi (546km)

Campground Accommodation: Fox Mountain Rd (CR 380) (San Juan National Forest, Colorado): $0

Written on May 19 and May 22 2005 in Luxembourg.