Second Stop- Visitor Center/Gunnison Point About 100 yards up the road from Tomichi Point you will find the Visitor Center. There is ample parking and rest facilities or you can simply hike the short trail that links the two points. The rangers inside are knowledgeable about the geography of the Black Canyon and are more than willing to provide you with a free map of the park and discuss in greater detail some of the landscape features that make up the geography of Black Canyon. While you are in the Visitor Center be sure to check out the free movie on the history of the Black Canyon. There are some interesting geographical tidbits about the logistics of diverting the Gunnison River through six miles of solid rockView from the back patio of the Visitor Center to reach the arid mesa nearby. PLEASE REMEMBER... Collecting rock or plant specimens in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is illegal. Picture by Mike Snoderly
Click the picture above to play the videoExit the back door of the Visitor Center to reach the short walkway to Gunnison Point. This vantage offerssweeping 360 degree views of the canyon. We are able to see the first signs of white colored pegmatite veinsrunning through the Black Canyon Gneiss. These veins were formed through an extrusion process. Thepegmatite has a much lower melting temperature than the surrounding gneiss. As the rock expanded andcracked apart during the cooling process, pegmatite was forced into the gaps much like toothpaste through atube. As we head north to the next stop, these veins will become more abundant and impressive.Video by Mike Snoderly
Sub-topic: Geology and Erosion On your way back to the Visitor Center, be sure to look on your right side for some excellent geologicsamples. Visible here are tiny, glittering quartz crystals, vivid orange lichen and examples of biological and mechanical weathering. The iPhone visible on the left is for scale.
Third Stop – The Painted Wall Sub-topic: Geology Continue for about four miles down the road and you will see the signs for the Painted Wall. This is a popular attraction and parking is limited. The darker portions of rock visible on the canyon wall are Black Canyon Gneiss, a combination of gneisses and mica schist formed around 1.7 billion years ago in the middle Proterozoic Era. These metamorphic rocks were deeply folded and subjected to several instances of igneous intrusion beginning about 1.4 billion years ago. This resulted in the lighter areas of pegmatite and granite. The area at the top of the cliff is the Great Unconformity, where sediments from the middle Jurassic Era contact the Proterozoic gneiss. This phenomenon represents a gap in the geological record of about 1.2 billion years.
ConclusionThe Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park contains richgeological treasures found nowhere else on the planet. There arecanyons that are longer, deeper or sheerer but only the BlackCanyon possesses these features in such a magnificentcombination. Through millions of years, the Gunnison River hasscoured the Proterozoic rock tirelessly and at a rate so slow itoverwhelms the mind. The sheer walls of black schist and gneissstand in stark contrast to the beautiful pink quartz and granitecrystalline rock. It is easy to get swept up in the amazing viewsand thundering sound of the Gunnison River but we must keep inmind how mankind has affected the environment by changing theflow of this river. However, only with an understanding of thegeologic principles that shaped the canyon can one truly appreciatethe majesty that is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NationalPark.
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