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Black Canyon Bliss

This is not a good picture. It's framed badly, a touch out of focus, and pretty dark.  

This is not healthy food. It's high in sodium, bad carbs, totally not organic, and I didn't kill it or grow it. These legs are not the legs of a super athlete. They are not strong and muscular, nor are they long, chiseled, and fast. And this is not one of the fabled rivers. This isn't the Columbia, the beating heart of the Pacific Northwest. It's not the Mississippi, draining our continent's fertile plains to renew our gulf. Nor does this river flow from the hallowed Catskills, in all their historical importance. However... This most joyous moment, captured here in still photography, it's mine. This meager meal, it's fuel for the treacherous journey. These worn, tired, and trail-battered legs, they took me here. And this river, this canyon, oh she is mighty in her own enigmatic way. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison originally started around the mouth of Beaver Creek in The Curecanti National Recreation Area, but that was before the impoundment of Blue Mesa Reservoir and Crystal Lake. Now the Canyon officially starts at the Crystal Lake dam and runs 48 twisted miles down to what is known as Pleasure Park, which is the confluence of the Gunnison River and the North Fork of the Gunnison. The recreational opportunities are seemingly endless around this unique chasm. Miles of trails line the rim with numerous overlooks that allow you to admire the painted rock faces and jagged cliffs from safety. For the drastically more adventurous, there are a few points from which you can treacherously descend into the belly of the canyon. Her true beauty and awe can only be experienced from below, but this should only be attempted by seasoned hikers who have researched the perils that a climb down can present. (Trust me, I've done it and I know. This is not for the slightly out of shape.) The added few ounces of a fly rod can reward you greatly once you reach the river below! For those looking to enjoy the view looking upward without too much endangerment, the East Portal Road out of Montrose will allow you to drive down and experience the canyon in a family friendly way. Wildlife of the larger varieties in the inner canyon can be scarce but, if you look closely, you may be able to spot a Bighorn Sheep on one of the rock escarpments. Also, if you enter through the east portal, there is a good chance to see many Elk and Mule Deer just off of the road. If creatures of the smaller kind are your thing, then get your binoculars ready! The American Dipper is a common visitor to the water's edge. Being America's only diving songbird, they will often be seen swimming from rock to rock, plucking mayfly nymphs from the submerged stones. They are quite comical as the scuttle around looking for food, curtseying hastily. American Robins, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Bullock's Orioles, and numerous warbler species can also be seen by the sharp eye. For the shade tree entomologist, there is a plethora of butterflies to be seen among the many wildflowers. If you venture deep into the canyon, the Caddis can sometimes make it hard to even drink out of a canteen without swallowing a bug! If you time it just right, in late June, for a fleeting moment, you can witness something magical; the Salmonfly hatch. These giant insects, the size of hummingbirds, dance over the river on their four wings. They tantalize the onlooking trout as they flutter from boulder to boulder in search of other monstrous black and pumpkin colored Plecopterans. The fish absolutely go bonkers for these tasty treats, smashing any well placed gaudy-colored dry fly. Stop in at Gunnison River Fly Shop and talk to Spencer. He'll give you all the inside scoop and help you pick out the perfect assortment of flies to fool the canyon's weary Rainbows. I have entered the Black Canyon. I drank her cool waters and breathed her pristine air. I have labored my way up and out precariously and gazed down onto the river where I had spent a few cherished nights. I didn't conquer the Black Canyon; no one does. I left, with her, a part of me. To enter the canyon is to be part of the canyon. By leaving her, you will always bring her with you.

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