It’s a treasure of the Western Slope. 

And it’s in Montrose’s back yard. 

Originally, the Black Canyon was a barrier to humans. The people of the Ute bands knew about the canyon for a long time, but it was unknown to explorers for hundreds of years, according to the National Parks Service. 

It’s large canyon walls are often shrouded in shadow, giving them a black appearance. The mighty Gunnison River, named after John Williams Gunnison, weaves through the canyon like a snake. 

The Spanish were the first Europeans to canvas western Colorado. Two expeditions — one led by Juan Rivera in 1765 and one by Fathers Dominguez and Escalante in 1776 — passed by the canyon looking for passage to the California coast. 

Explorers wouldn’t make their way through the canyon’s gorge until the mid-1850s. 

John Williams Gunnison, who served in the U.S. military’s Corps of Topographical Engineers was the first ride into the canyon, describing the country as “the roughest, most hilly and most cut up,” he had ever seen, according to the NPS. 

Gunnison and his men navigated around the Black Canyon and followed an easier route west through what is now Montrose. He and his troops reached Utah and witnessed destruction left by Paiute Indian raids on Mormon settlements. He and his group were attacked by the natives. Only four survived, and Gunnison never returned home.

Today, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of four national parks in Colorado. Once a dangerous place for settlers, it is now a major tourist attraction. And it’s only about 13 miles from Montrose. 

There were 308,962 visitors to the national park in 2018, spending some $19 million and supporting 241 jobs. 

The price of entry is modest and is based on vehicle type; visitors can even camp in the national park. In the South Rim campground, there 88 camping spots. 

But even if you’re not a visitor, there are plenty of programs throughout the year at the national park. Rangers lead guests on expeditions ranging from snowshoe walks to stargazing adventures. Visit nps.gov/blca for more information. 

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