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Monarch Branch
Poncha Springs
Mears Junction
Marshall Pass
Crested Butte
Lake City
Black Canyon
Grand Junction



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Geologic Survey Description...


black canyon curecanti looking down pc.jpg (52864 bytes)
Black Canyon c1930
with Currecanti needle
at left


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Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Denver 310-330 miles.

Here is one of the famous scenic canyons that the Denver and Rio Grande once traveled on its way westward along the Marshall Pass Route. Its name probably arose from the fact that the canyon is so deep that the sun only reaches to the bottom of its depths at high noon, leaving it dark and foreboding the rest of the time. The Utes once believed that anyone entering the murky chasm would never exit alive. An early Geologist was once lowered on a rope for a thousand feet into the canyon for an exploratory "look see", and upon emerging from the depths he proclaimed that "no man could go further and live."

Indeed, besides the nearly impassible shear rock canyon walls, the mighty Gunnison River once raged down the bottom with such fury that a man could not find a place to walk. General Palmer did not let the myth stop his pushing the railroad west from the town of Gunnison. He hired 1,045 men and 175 teams of horses for the project. The fearless crews devised the technique of lowering men down the canyon walls on ropes and then drilling holes into the rock face for small scaffolds and then placing blasting charges with extra long fuses that allowed the men to light the fuse and be raised out of harms way before the explosion.


U.S.G.S. Bulletin 707, 1922 footnote:

Although Black Canyon below the mouth of Cimarron Canyon is comparatively small, in both depth and length, it is one of the most difficult to traverse, and very few travelers have succeeded in passing through it.

The Black Canyon was first explored by a party of engineers of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, who in 1882-83 made an instrumental survey of the entire canyon, even passing through the more difficult portion below Cimarron. No records of this trip, so far as the writer is aware, have ever been published; all we know about it is that the members of the party suffered great hardship and peril. Since that time others have attempted to traverse the Canyon below Cimarron, but most of them have suffered shipwreck and disaster.

About 1903 A. L. Fellows, an engineer of the Reclamation Service, and W. W. Terrence, of Montrose, made the attempt. They were equipped with a rubber raft, rubber bags for cameras, and two silk life lines 600 feet long. They lost their provisions but succeeded in capturing a mountain sheep, upon which they lived during the rest of their trip. It took them 10 days to traverse 30 miles of the canyon.

More recently Ellsworth Kolb has made a successful trip through the canyon, so that it seems probable that the Gunnison has been tamed or that man has learned how to circumvent even this raging torrent.


The Black Canyon begins west of Gunnison and slowly begins to build in depth as it cuts through granite and gneiss rock. Canyon walls range from several hundred to several thousand feet deep. Sapinero is the only settlement west of Gunnison at the mouth of the deeper canyon. From there the shear vertical nature of the canyon begins, passing by the famous Curecanti needle. The railroad climbed out of the canyon at Cimarron, but the canyon itself continues well beyond and gets even more remote and difficult to travel.

Much of the original railroad line in the canyon is now covered by impounded waters of Blue Mesa and Morrow Point reservoirs.







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