Black Canyon, Brown Sands: Day 4

We dedicated the fourth day of our trip to exploring the floor beneath the South Rim of the Black Canyon, including the Gunnison River. We began the day at the Glass Doctor, having our driver’s window replaced and our windshield repaired. Five-hundred dollars later, we decided to get lunch while further supporting the local economy. Our unchained restaurant of choice: Horsefly Brewing Company. Jon had a pint of the Bug Eyed Blonde and a French dip sandwich; Cliff had the Highland Scottish and the restaurant’s signature “50/50” burger. Once we had gorged, we were ready to take on the gorge.

There are thousands of descriptions online about the descent from rim to river. Nearly all of them are intended to convince you that this is a highlight of the park: “Try it! You won’t regret it.” “The steep grade and curvy road make this quite an adventure.” “The scenery is magnificent as you drive down the canyon to the river.” “Just beautiful! And well worth the time to explore.”

We found it underwhelming, especially after having experienced the spectacular grandeur along the South Rim Road the day before.

Some context: The entire 47-square-mile park encompasses 14 of the most scenic miles of the canyon. Yet it’s one of the least visited parks in the national park system (perhaps because it is situated well away from major interstates). That means there were no long lines of cars stretching from one overlook to another; no crowds of tourists jockeying for position to get a perfect selfie. It made the previous day’s scenic drive truly memorable.

We expected we would spend at least several hours descending to the Gunnison, stopping along the way to take in the wonder of the wilderness. We knew the park provided limited access routes to the greenish-blue ribbon of water that carved the canyon, and minimal infrastructure. But we weren’t prepared for how minimal it turned out to be. With the exception of a few picnic areas and rock formations, there was very little to see or do.

And we were almost completely alone. We stopped at several points to take pictures and listen to the river, but within an hour we were ready to make our ascent.

With so much time on our hands, we decided to go shopping for groceries and supplies.

Back at camp, Jon did the laundry, while Cliff prepared dinner.