Curecanti and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We spent three nights camping just above the Black Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation Area.  On our first full day, we explored Crested Butte and partook in one of the most magnificent hikes ever.  On the second day we decided to stick closer to home and explore the surreal landscape of Curecanti.  Although not far from the prototypical Colorado mountains, Curecanti is a beguiling landscape of desert plants, mesas, reds, oranges, and a large blue pool of water that looks just as out-of-place as it is.  The juxtaposition is right out of a storybook or a fantasy movie.  What was once an arid area with a fertile valley where the Gunnison River once ran is now a boaters’ paradise.

Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti

Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti

Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti

Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti

We began our exploration with a several mile hike to the Dillon Pinnacles.  It was a beautiful day and the trail was deserted.  It appears that almost everyone that frequents this park does so with a boat and/or the inclination to get on the water.  That leaves the trails blissfully empty.  As we were hiking to the scent of sage and eventually pine, I was checking out the footprints of the hikers that came before us.  Apparently, many deer like to hike the trail, as well as a few people.  When we were almost to the turn-around point, Van started making his cat noise.  He almost never makes his cat noise unless he sees a cat, so we immediately start asking him if he saw one.  A cat out here on this deserted trail almost assuredly means one thing – a mountain lion.  They’re not frequently seen, but Van has a way of spotting things that is uncanny.  I often think he should be a tracker when he gets older.

As two-year olds tend to do, he will not answer our question about whether he saw a cat.  I’m not sure we’d believe him one way or another anyways.  So, we continue down the path amongst the pines and the pinnacles until I look down and see the unmistakable print of a large cat.  We’ll never know if Van actually saw a mountain lion or if he was just making sounds for fun, but we knew that it was time to turn around and not find out for ourselves.  On the return leg of the hike, Alan commented on how much faster of a hiker I am with the threat of a mountain lion in the vicinity.

Dillon Pinnacles in Curecanti

Dillon Pinnacles in Curecanti

View of the Blue Mesa Reservoir from our Hike

View of the Blue Mesa Reservoir from our Hike

After a morning in the full sun and a sprinkling of adrenaline, we found a rare shaded picnic spot, right next to the boat inspection station.  Van was in heaven.  He loves boats, so to get to watch boat after boat pull up while he ate lunch was a real treat.  We spent the afternoon hiking down into a narrow canyon and along the water, and then later, playing along the shore of the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  We, however, did not get decked out in white mud like the gentleman we saw making an escape through the grasses.

Nope, not a ghost, just a man fully clad in white mud

Nope, not a ghost, just a man fully clad in white mud

Cooling Off in the Blue Mesa Reservoir

Cooling Off in the Blue Mesa Reservoir

 

Our last and final day in the area was spent in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  It’s hard to see in photos, but this canyon is DEEP and narrow.  We couldn’t even get a good gauge of how deep it was when we were looking right into it.  I was shocked to learn, as I teetered on the edge of the deepest portion, that the Empire State Building would only come up halfway.  We hiked around the rim a bit and marveled at the sheer drops and the beautiful cliffs, before heading off to find our next camping spot.  This turned out to be a bit more difficult than we anticipated, but we eventually found a great (but not cheap) spot in Ridgway State Park.  It’s in an ideal location, centrally located so that we could explore Telluride and Ouray on different days without having to pack up camp.  More on our fun in those locations in a future post…