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The great canyon of Colorado
country : United States of America
place : south-west of the country, Arizona state


Most rivers of the Southwest cut through relatively soft sedimentary rock, forming canyons that tend to be quite wide, colorful and stepped - descending in a series of cliffs and ledges through layers of differing hardness. When rivers flow across harder igneous rock they produce steeper gorges, spectacular in different ways, such as Hell's Canyon in Idaho, the deepest in the US, or the multicolored Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Wyoming.
One of the steepest, darkest and most rugged of such canyons is formed by the Gunnison River as it flows through hard ancient rocks at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, on its way to joining the Colorado river at Grand Junction. The canyon walls are composed of volcanic schist, predominantly black in color, and as the gorge reaches depths of over 2,000 feet while often being only 1,500 feet across, sunlight illuminates the walls only briefly, hence the name 'Black Canyon'. It is unsettling, almost frightening to stand at the very edge of one of the canyon overlooks, such is the menace and sheerness of the jagged rocks below.
A New National Park: On October 21st, 1999, Black Canyon was officially upgraded in status from a national monument and became the 55th national park in the US, and the third smallest. Entrance fees increased sharply on Jan 1st 2007, from $8 to $15 per vehicle.
Access: The canyon was originally over 50 miles long, but three dams have been built along the eastern (upstream) section flooding two thirds of the gorge - this is now part of theCurecanti National Recreation Area (NRA) which offers many recreational opportunities based around the artificial lakes. Only the lower 13 miles of the canyon remain unspoilt but this includes the deepest and most scenic section. The river here may be approached from the north or the south but most visitor services are along the south rim and are reached by the short spur road CO 347, which joins US 50, one of the main trans-Rockies routes, a few miles east of Montrose. Here, the terrain is quite flat, but CO 347 climbs steadily through scrub-covered foothills to an elevation of 8,500 feet near the canyon rim, yet with no indication of the great gorge ahead. There is a campground just past the park entrance, with plenty of sites although they are rather enclosed by vegetation.


Viewpoints: Before the campsite, the unpaved East Portal Road forks off and descends with many sharp bends, following close to the river upstream, to the East Portal Dam which marks the boundary between the national park and the Curecanti NRA. However, all the canyon overlooks are found along the main entrance road, which continues alongside the canyon rim for 8 miles. The road passes about 12 named viewpoints, some of which require a short walk to see the canyon. There are also a couple of nature paths across flattish land around the rims, and three difficult trails down to the river.


Black Canyon: As with some other canyons, seeing many viewpoints of the same feature can become a little repetitive, although here the character of Black Canyon does change along the river. Around the visitor center and for a couple of miles northwest, the cliffs are very steep and the canyon is at its narrowest - only 1,150 feet across at The Narrows. There are several overlooks of this area, which has amazingly jagged, precipitous rocks and pinnacles. In many places, thin veins of white gneiss criss-cross the predominantly black cliffs. Further west, the surrounding hills are lower and the canyon opens out becoming less deep and more V-shaped. From High Point, at the end of the road, it is possible to see 8 miles further west, almost to the end of the gorge, but there is no easy access to the canyon beyond this point. The land either side of this section of the river is an officially designated Wilderness Area and there are many steep ridges and valleys that provide a barrier to travel.


The North Rim: The North Rim is reached by a good quality gravel road, which is closed by snow during winter, and has another selection of overlooks along the canyon edge, a campground and various trails including three that descend to the river. Because of the more difficult access and lack of facilities, few people visit the north rim although the views are equally good as those from the south.


Source: http://www.americansouthwest.net
 

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