Black Canyon

Properly known as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the site offers photographers of all types a memorable experience.  It presents serious photographers some challenges and great satisfaction if they are pleased with their efforts.

Taken at Pulpit Rock Overlook.  This overlook actually has two points of view and it is easy to reach and there are easy places to set up your tripod.  The Gunnison River is easily spotted here.  Shot taken towards the east end in the early afternoon as the clouds were building up.  This is a wider part of the canyon.

If you look way down into the bottom of the canyon, where the well lit mountains in the background meet the dark shadows on the near wall, you see the Gunnison River.  You can hear the river's roar long before you reach the overlook.  You can barely see the forceful whitewater rapids.  No rafting, canoeing, or kayaking is allowed in this part of the park, especially in the spring when the water is at such a high level.

Taken at Dragon Point Outlook looking westward about midday.

Taken at the Chasm Overlook.  Difficult to capture just how 'far down' that river is!!  At some point in the canyon we read that if the Empire State Building were placed in the canyon it would reach just slightly over half way to the top!  I believe that may have been at Chasm Overlook.  Can you see how narrow the canyon is at this point?  Also, along here the Gunnison River is almost all whitewater rapids.

Taken along the Tomichi Trail in mid-afternoon.  This view is towards the east.

Tom and I arrived at the park late in the afternoon.  After setting up Mellie in the park's campground (30 amp electric provided but no water or dumping), we headed out to explore.  The very first stop we chose was Devil's Lookout.  We quickly realized that we had a huge challenge ahead of us.  How were we going to capture the essence of this place? We had read that photographers often felt that their images were wanting in this regard.  Now we understood!  The photos we selected (above) were the best we could do in meeting the challenge.

The end of our first day!  Already we were overwhelmed by trying to capture the essence of this wonderful place.  Image take at High Point Lookout.

High Point Lookout.

Sunset at High Point Lookout.  I was grateful that we were just miles 'away from home'!

Along with trying to capture the true sense of the space, we were challenged by the wide dynamic range.  The name, Black Canyon, is a well deserved one.  The narrow walls of the deep canyon means that many gorgeous spots have one side of the canyon or the other side in deep shadows.  Some parts of the bottom of the canyon only get 33 minutes of sunlight a day!  Our eyes can easily discern and span the dynamic range.  Even our expensive camera sensors struggle to capture the scene properly.  I tried using a graduated neutral density filters (limited success), bracketed shots (sometimes worked) and even some extreme and focused post editing to try and get it to look like I saw it. 

Not sure but I believe this is sunrise at Pulpit Point Overlook.

Yes, if you look way down into the bottom of the canyon, where the bright wall meets the dark shadows on the near wall, you see the Gunnison River.  You can barely see the forceful whitewater rapids.  No rafting, canoeing, or kayaking is allowed in this part of the park, especially in the spring when the water is at such a high level.

Taken at Rock Point Overlook in the morning sun.

Perhaps I should find some music to listen to while viewing this blog post!  Seeing the photos without the roar of the river just seems lacking in a major way!!

Steep canyon walls just add to the sense of grandeur of the place.  Dynamic range aside, add what I called rock wall graffiti and you get a wonderful appreciation of what has been created here.  The best example of this can be seen at Painted Wall.  This massive rock wall rises 2,250 feet above the river.  What makes it so interesting are the pegmatite intrusions that run against a dark schist.  We saw these intrusions throughout the canyon but none quite as impressive as those on the Painted Wall.  They are also viewed at Dragon Point and Cedar Point.  Some of the intrusions have names, such as 'Dragon'.

I think this is from Dragon Point.  You can, perhaps, make out the Dragon on Painted Wall.  You might also spot the whitewater on the Gunnison River.

Painted Wall detail.

Pretty sure this is Cross Fissures Point.

Taken at Devil's Overlook.

We went back to this wall at Cross Fissures Outlook.  It would make a spectacular evening Golden Hour shot.  But, the late afternoon soon was muted by a thick bank of clouds to the west and the light was flat.

Pulpit Rock Outlook.

Photograph taken while hiking the Tomichi Trail.  You get to hear the roar of the river the whole hike.  The trail is well marked, an easy hike and there were flowers, birds, lizards and impressive rock canyon walls.

Another image taken along Tomichi Trail.  Snow capped mountains in the far background.

This is Painted Rock (again) with another viewpoint of the pegmatite intrusions.

Photographers often skip the middle of the day's harsh light.  Not a good option at Black Canyon as sometimes that is the best time to capture light looking down the deep canyon . . . can you spot the Gunnison River?  Yep, that little spot of light!  I wish you could hear the roar to go with it.

Taken in the early afternoon as clouds played shadow tag on the park.  As if the natural dynamic range was not challenging enough! 

I have mentioned the river, its roar and the whitewater rapids.  How to capture the force one hears and sees is a bit of a challenge.  So, I tried taking my camera off the tripod, hanging over a couple of rails, (a quick prayer helps still the heart at this point) and pointing straight down into the river below with my long lens.  A pounding heart does not help still the camera!!

Taken at Chasm View Outlook. 

Taken at Devil's Outlook.

Taken at Devil's Outlook. 

Chasm View . . . When you are looking straight down on these rapids you immediately know that nature has not granted mortal man passage.  This is Mother Nature calling the shots.  I can respect that from above, share it with my friends and family and be content to keep my distance.

From Painted Wall.  ROAR!!! 

There is more to this park than steep walls, a roaring river, natural wall graffiti and a sense of utter expansiveness.  There are lovely paths, lots of flowers, critters and birds of all sorts, deer outside our window in the morning, well signed paths, ample parking, solitude, and so much more.  The park only gets about 250,000 visitors a year (compare that with 4.5M in 2013 at the Grand Canyon and 4m at Yosemite).  There are no tour buses, hordes of tourists pushing each other around at small lookouts or waiting for parking spaces.  It seems to be a well kept secret.

These flowers were everywhere!

Along the path to Cedar Point.

Spring is springing at the canyon.  Lots of plants are budding out.  It reminds me that nature renews, the river rages with snow melt.  I am grateful to be in the midst of such magic.

Path to Dragon Point.

The teeniest, smallest, itsy bitsy in the middle of the grandest, most expansive canyon.

Path to Cedar Outlook.

I have no idea what kind of bird this is.  But, I tried so hard to get a great bird photograph in honor of my birding friends.  I will call this a "pretty bird' based on Elaine's expert advice on how to name a bird when you are not sure.  This one actually waited patiently . . . Note: Elaine identified this as a Green-tailed towhee.  Thanks Elaine!

But, the patience wore thin and soon he was 'out of here'.  This pretty bird lives at Dragon Point.

A pretty flower!

Just hanging out along a path, giving a reason for those walking along to smile.

There are obvious signed efforts to replenish native species of wildflowers.  I would give the National Park Service high marks in this area (and several others).  It appears to be working well.

Photos like this one seen along the paths to any of the lookouts are hard to pass up.

So, time for a true story.  Those friends who shoot with Tom and me will nod and smile, knowing this is exactly as how it would happen.  Tom and I were headed to Devil's Point Outlook.  It was about 6:20 our first morning out exploring.  Tom says, "I see a photo over there" and heads out off the path into the bushes.  I quickly lose him and trudge on to the lookout point.  When he finally reaches me he is all smiles.  "Look what I got!"  OK!  Envy overtakes me.  Why, oh why, do I stay on trails and not SEE other great opportunities?  Anyway, I was determined to get my shot of what we later read is called Dragon's Tongue.

So, the next morning I was back at that outlook.  I had a hard time finding the non-path to the edge.  Tom had stayed behind at Pulpit Rock so I was on my own.  After all, he already had his shot.  I finally spotted two photographers on an edge of the rock wall facing the wall I thought would have Dragon's Tongue.  The brush was about my height and I could not find an established path (I really don't think there is one).  When I made it to the site I asked them, "Did I miss the peak light?"  They answered that no, I had not but the clouds were muting the intensity this morning.  Dang it!!  Hats off to Tom, though, for catching the light even before we knew it was a photo opportunity that was not to be missed.

This was taken from High Point looking towards the valley away from the mesa we were on.

There is a 6 mile road that connects the different lookouts.  Each is clearly labeled and the hiking distance to the lookout is provided.  Paths are well maintained, some have signage that identifies plants and animals.  Lookouts have signage indicating unique geological features or history of the canyon.  And between lookouts you might be treated to views like the one above!  Time to take a deep breath because you will hold it in at the next lookout!  But, the very best thing about the road and the ample parking is that we returned to different sites over and over again at different times of day as we checked out the light, trying our best to capture each place in the best light.

Periodically I would spot rock climbing ropes on the wall near an outlook point.  Apparently the leave no trace does not apply to them!  These guys were spotted on a ledge just above the river.  They waved up at Tom.  The park requires that rock climbers get a special use permit and show they are experienced for the rigorous type of climbing the park offers.  Not for me!

Back porch of the Visitor Center.  The Visitor Center is small but has more than we need.  The staff is very knowledgeable and we picked up a hiking guide for Ann!!  Thinking of you dear friend!  We picked up a book you may want to check out, either when you see us or if you decide to make the trip before we meet up.  Not the best photo guide I have, but certainly useful (Getting Up Early: The Visitors' Guide to Photographing the Black Canyon, by Vince Farnsworth, ISBN 978-1-62620-816-2).

Arriving at the Visitors' Center from Tomichi Trail.

End of a great trip from High Point Outlook. 

There are so many reasons to return to this park and photograph it in a different season and light. My heart is full.  Thank you for sharing with us.  We think of our friends and family often as we are out and about.  I especially remember my mother.  She would have reveled in this trip and its posting.  She would look at the images again and again, checking every detail.  Then she would whip out an email with questions!  I miss sharing with her.  Sharing with you makes up for a great deal of that 'missing'.  I was not expecting that.  Thanks for being there.  Better still . . . if you can . . . grab your camera, pack lightly and head up to Black Canyon.  My hope is that our images will inspire you to make this trip, or any other trip for that matter, and share with other photographers who are looking for good photo opportunities.