BLACK CANYON, Colo. (KREX) — The San Juan and West Elk Mountains erupted 65 million years ago, sending lava flowing through 65 miles of what’s known as the Gunnison Uplift. Black Canyon National Park’s website explains how over time, the ancient Gunnison River later carved through the volcanic rock. Once a deep channel was formed and water reached the metamorphic rock below, the river cut through an inch of the Earth every century.
This extraordinarily long process created what we see today – the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a 2700-foot-deep gorge.
Over the past few years, this park has gained loads of popularity and online monetization – trending on TikTok and Instagram.
But U.S. park ranger Ryan Rees stationed at Black Canyon warns newcomers of the dangers involved, especially on the routes to the bottom.
He tells me the North Rim is a self-serve station, while the South Rim has a visitor’s center.
The danger only heightens for those attempting to climb. Last month, two climbers attempted to summit the Great White Wall. But when only about 300 feet off the bottom of the canyon, one climber fell several stories, landing unconscious on a ledge.
Rees tells me her climbing partner had to repel down off the ledge to go find help, since there’s no service in the canyon.
Roughly 25 rescuers including Rees responded, some climbed up, while others repelled down to the ledge in an operation that ended with a National Guard helicopter squeezing into the canyon to lift her up. The climber made it out alive.
Rees says the helicopter took her to the Montrose Airport, then passed her off to a flight-for-life aircraft headed for St. Mary’s.
Rees reminds me there are several things you can do to keep yourself safe here, including bringing a headlamp in case your outing takes longer than expected, and thinking of getting some sort of spot locator device.
When you go, even the most experienced outdoors enthusiasts need to be prepared. But everyone should experience this beautiful park – it’s an amazing place to stop and enjoy the land sculpted by water millions of years ago.