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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Black Canyon - Duncan Trail Hike - February 6, 2015

It's been years since I've been to the bottom of the Black Canyon.  There are several trails available of varying length and steepness.  I'd been on the Chukar Trail way back in the 70's.  So, since my hiking feet were severely "nervous", I opted for a hike down the Duncan Trail.  The scenery is nothing like the mountains that I usually tread.  However, when the hiking itch strikes, you have to make do.  The access to the trailhead would normally be snowy or muddy at this time of year.  Fortunately, it was nearly dry on this day.  The dirt in the area is a mix of adobe and sandy soil.  It can be very slick and "gumbo" like.  The hike is only about 3 miles roundtrip.  It only has an elevation drop of around 850 feet.  But, most of that drop is in the last quarter mile.  It's like going up and down a ladder.  Since this trail accesses Black Canyon National Park and the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness, it is a fee area.

The Trailhead - there's a nice restroom and picnic table setup at the trailhead - something for your $3.

The start down the trail.  The first mile or so is easy, fairly level hiking.


As expected in canyon country, there are some interesting sandstone features, with lots of granite on down the trail.  It was a beautiful sunny day in the low 60's - very unusual for this time of year.  In fact, it was downright hot climbing back up.


This rock block caught my eye.  It was almost a perfect cube.  I wonder and ponder how that happened.


First glimpse of the river is just a short side trip to the edge.



It's not long until it's obvious that things are going downhill quickly.  I've done far more elevation gain in the mountains that did not affect me as much as this last pitch to the river.  My thighs were cramping and my legs overall felt a bit "rubbery".  I guess my daily exercise routine needs to be more aggressive!  I knew the uphill would be easier though.  It always is.


This is the last steep section toward the bottom....and I mean steep!  Add to that the loose rock on it and much careful foot placement is required.


It's not long though until the cramps and shaky legs are replaced with the beauty of the river and surrounding canyon.  The canyon bottom in this section is not nearly as spectacular as the upper canyon with it's vertical, towering walls.  However, it is still worth the trip down.  This section is very popular with fishermen.  There were several other people in the area fishing.  The flows are controlled from the Crystal Dam upstream.  On this day the flow seemed very low.  In fact, under right conditions a loop can be done between this trail and both the Bobcat and Ute trails.  There were even a couple of kayaks floating down the river.  This is the view looking downstream to the north.


The view upstream is nearly as picturesque.


Some sort of cabin or log structure gives faint reminder of "days gone by".  I always wonder at these places...who lived here?.....what were they like?.....how often did they leave the canyon?.....what was it like living here - if they did?


View from my lunch spot.


After lunch and a few more pictures, it was time to muster the energy to climb the "ladder" back out of here. A look up the route made me start breathing hard before ever moving my feet!


But, it really wasn't nearly as bad going up.  Fewer muscles are used and balance is easier.  Here's a shot partway up looking back up the river.


It wasn't long until I was back up on the bench and could catch my breath and enjoy the views.  Many old juniper and pinyon snags add to the scenery.



This snag was right by the trail and had interesting color.


All in all, it was a good hike and I'm glad I did it.  Like I said in the beginning, it doesn't remotely compare to alpine views in my opinion.  But, variety is good.  Here's a shot from the road on the way down overlooking the Uncompahgre valley with Delta and Grand Mesa in the background.  Thank you Lord - it was a hoot!