Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Sunrise in Black Canyon of the Gunnison; to Silverton over Highway 550; into Mesa Verde National Park for sunset

I decided that I would wait for sunrise at the "Painted Wall" viewpoint. I arrived as the first light hit the upper part of the canyon. With much of it still in the dark, I was glad that I had two cameras: one with a wide-angle light to shoot the progression of light on the canyon as a whole, and the other to isolate smaller areas that were already being bathed in the golden light of early morning. "Painted Wall" is a fitting name, because the rock wall looks like some giant took a white paint brush and painted various thin and thicker arch-like lines over the darker rock.

I stayed about half an hour, and then decided to head on - had I waited for the light to hit the very bottom of the canyon, I would have needed a lot more time. I continued to Sunset View, where the canyon widens, but found that the shadows were still covering most of the view as well.

By the time I had turned around and stopped at "Painted Wall" again, the light had lost most of its golden properties. More of the canyon was in daylight now, but the colours weren't as spectacular anymore.

I decided that I'd head down to the river next. I headed back towards the campground, and then took East Portal Road, which switchbacked down to the river. The drive took about half an hour. By now, the river was getting sunlight too, and the light was still quite nice. After about half an hour, I returned, driving up the same switchbacks I'd taken down.

I headed west on Highway 50 to Montrose, and then turned south on US 550. About two hours after leaving Black Canyon, I arrived in the mining town of Ouray. I'd already visited the previous year, albeit in bad weather, and was looking forward to taking more photographs with blue skies. I parked the car, and spent the next 45 minutes walking up and down main street with my camera. Over the next few miles, I did several more stops, first to look back over Ouray, and then to explore and take pictures of some mining structures.

Before too long, I arrived in Silverton. In 2004, I hadn't stopped here; so I made it a point to do so. I first stumbled upon something unexpected: a track&field installation. I couldn't help but step onto the lanes, although I was dismayed to find the surface wasn't all that great (tarmac).Just next to it, I was able to take close-up pictures of the Durango & Silverton Railroad - one steam train was in a parking position as another one pulled into town.

I approached downtown, but was a little turned off by the considerable amount of tourists that were serving as a reminder that even though Silverton still very much looked the part of a classic Western mining town, that its primary revenue source these days were tourists - I was one, too; of course. The train I'd seen pull into town was still there, of course, and I managed to get a few more decent close-up shots of the engine.

At around 1pm I pulled out of town, and headed towards Mesa Verde National Park for the evening. I already arrived there around 3:15pm, and thus had lots of times to pull off the road at the various viewpoints into the park.

After Mancos Valley Overlook, Montezuma Valley Overlook, Park Point Overlook, I stopped at the Farview Visitor Center; and was lucky enough to still make it onto the last guided tour of the day.

I still had plenty of time before that, though so I drove to Spruce Tree House, a smaller cliff dwelling that can be visited on what park rangers call a "self-guided tour". I then stopped at "Pithouse" and the "Mesa Top" sites, then the "Sun Point View" and "Oak Tree House"; neither of which were spectacular but a good enough way to pass the time until the evening tour.

Finally, I arrived at "Cliff Palace". I'd chosen the last tour for a reason: during daytime, the next group will already descent to the cliff dwellings as your group exits, making it impossible to get overview pictures without a bunch of people in brightly-coloured dresses pretty much ruining the shots.

By the time we entered, the left side of the dwellings was already covered in shadow, but for the entire rest the light was just perfect; and I took a copious amount of pictures and small panoramas.

By 7pm I was on the road again. I briefly stopped for some pictures of deer, and then at the Hemenway house overlook. Soon after, the sun was setting, and I chanced upon a spot that gave me one sunset shot that might as well have been taken somewhere in Africa with the way some trees were silhouetted against the horizon.

I drove to Morefield campground in the dark, listening to a radio show that was hosted by Alice Cooper.

Miles driven: 237mi (381km)

Campground Accommodation: Morefield Campground (Mesa Verde National Park): $21.05

Written August 4th 2009 in Luxembourg.