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Geological History of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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Black Canyon

Black Canyon (Photo credit: gmark1)

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a pretty wild and awesome place. Roaring, crashing water – the sounds amplified by the towering canyon walls, but how did it all begin? The main culprit (or designer) in the creation of this dramatic land is our old friend erosion. The slow, continuous and unyielding process which just keeps on going – sometimes drop by drop, sometimes scoured by flood-swollen rivers after seasonal rains – rock falls, landslides – relentlessly carving and shaping the landscape.

Erosion really is a relentless force, and the softer the rock the easier it is to work on. The river in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park first established it’s route over and through the soft volcanic rock, before reaching the older and harder crystalline rock which had been thrust skyward years before, a formation named the Gunnison Uplift. You make your bed and you lay on it, apparently, and it’s no different for rivers. Once the river was committed to the course it had chosen (the easiest route), then it had little choice but to continue cutting through the harder rocks, the gorge took around 2 million years to carve . . . how’s that for perseverance. It’s still going on to this day, erosion never stops you know.

Now you know . . . canyon – valley – canyon – valley . . .

The Black Canyon which has been spectacularly carved by the Gunnison River is an impressive 53 miles long, but the part which is actually within the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is only 12 miles – these are by far the most spectacular 12 miles of the lot.

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