After we left the majesty of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we continued our drive east to visit the Curecanti National Recreation Area while right in the area. We knew it was going to be a long day of driving, but also wanted to visit these two parks while in the local area.
I had to go on-line to find out the origin of the name Curecanti as it wasn’t explained in any of the literature we were provided at the ranger station, or in the Colorado travel guide. It was named after a Ute Indian sub-chief who roamed through eastern and southern Colorado from 1860-70s. And who knew there were even Indian sub-chiefs, huh? Few clues remain of the Ute Indians who lived here when pioneers and settlers arrived in the 1800s. Human occupation dates back to at least 10,000 years ago. Many artifacts have been uncovered showing inhabitants were attracted here by the abundance of game in the dry hills and river valleys.
The recreation area is located between Gunnison and Montrose on U.S. 50 and is a collection of three dark-blue reservoirs underneath yellow and pink mesas and canyons that the literature said rivaled the South Dakota’s Badlands – in defense of our adopted state, we both felt the Badlands were much prettier, maybe no water nearby, but for the mesas and canyons for sure.
Curecanti’s stark landscape shows the imprint of attempts to alter these rugged mesas and canyons for human purposes. The most recent major alteration was the construction of three dams on the Gunnison River to provide necessary irrigation and hydroelectric power to the area. These projects have transformed this semiarid locale into a water-based water mecca. The three reservoirs are Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal. Blue Mesa serves as the main storage reservoir. Morrow Point Dam generates most of the power and Crystal Dam maintains an even flow through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
According to the literature describing the area, the old rock faces of the Black Canyon that hold the water of the Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs tell of changes that have occurred over two billion years. Surrounding mesas are capped with cliffs and rocky spires telling of violent volcanic eruptions some 30 million years ago. These formed the West Elk Mountains to the north. Whereas later episodes to the south, formed southwestern Colorado’s scenic San Juan Mountains, spewing vast quantities of ash over this area. This helped explain why the topography had all these craggy spires and valleys and gorges – absolutely spectacular to see.
But, the main draw to this area isn’t for the natural beauty it holds, but rather the fishing. Brown, rainbow, Mackinaw, and brook trout and kokanee salmon attract fishing enthusiasts from all over. We saw lots of boats out on the water definitely showing the enthusiasm was true.
We found a fun place for us to drive up to the water and enjoy a small picnic lunch I had packed and brought along, and finally we found the spot and indulged. It was really a pretty spot and we sat and enjoyed the solitude for over an hour.
Our drive back was via what was called the high-road, or US 92. Jerry’s comment of “it’s like we are driving in a post card” was right on the mark. It really was! The road kept climbing and climbing and felt like we were on top of the world and the views from the car window were absolutely incredible. We stopped at many vantage points to take pictures of these fabulous views along the route. I feel as though I need to find a superlative dictionary or maybe better stated a dictionary of superlatives because I am talking in “EST” about this whole route – it was truly spectacular with each bend in the road. This was one trip that I was finally on the inside portion of the road, or mountain to the right of the car versus me always being on the outside edge chiming my newly developed call sign – the call of the “chicken” – bawk, bawk and BAWK – yep, these roads do scare me!
We were gone a long time, but it was a long time of beautiful and spectacular scenery and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, on the way back to Grand Junction we also saw the Grand Mesa to our right – another place to explore, but not on this visit to this area – it’ll have to wait for another swing through this part of the state. Tomorrow’s drive is to the Colorado National Monument and hopefully into downtown Grand Junction.
Hope you have enjoyed another one of our country’s national gems and that the pictures will somewhat portray how beautiful this part of Colorado is to explore.
Till the next time . . .