As we headed up the mountain we passed through the Gunnison and San Isabel National Forests and crested at the Monarch Pass Continental Divide-- 11,312 feet. Burrrr it was cold, majestic and a great potty stop. I believe at this point we have crossed five continental divides in our travels over the years.
We arrived at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park; our nation's newest park to the national park system. One of the national parks that I don't think gets the visitorship that it deserves. A canyon of huge proportion and beauty. (this photo was self timed and Princess A bolted across the road before it took)
When we checked out the visitor center the ranger offered D a chance to earn her Junior Ranger badge. The challenge came with not the usual plastic ranger badge but a glow in the dark patch. This Junior Ranger program was the "Night Explorer". Princess A and M upon hearing of D's invitation to earn the prestigious badge read that it was available to those "10 and up". BINGO! That meant a 20-year old and a 17-year old were geared up to be part of the "dark wars" too. We attended Ranger Randy's--a man of serious dry humor-- program and learned lots about the night sky and that we "are all made of star dust". Before we left the park for our next destination the girls met Irm, a volunteer ranger, who not only graded their Jr. Ranger booklet thoroughly; she did a fantastic swearing in ceremony. Here you have it three "Night Explorers" of the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park.
As hiking is always in some way a part of our national park vacations we decided to try a more difficult hike-- a canyon hike. Yes-sir-ree, one mile down with an incline of 1800 feet. I acquired the necessary permit, we all got the explanation speech of the hike and were informed that some say it is harder and more difficult than hiking one of the many fourteeners in Colorado. I figured we tackled Pike's Peak so we could do this. Ha! Well Ha! for me. The rule was if one in the group felt they needed to turn back it meant the whole group had to turn back. I don't know how many times I used the phrase "I'm sorry", but apparently enough times that King Ralph told me to stop apologizing. You do feel bad when everyone else feels capable and you don't. However my muscles were giving out, the boulder fields began to feel more unstable under my footing and the idea of having to pull myself up that 80-foot metal link chain was haunting my thought of body weakness. The ranger asked me when I stopped if I still having fun and felt pleasure in making it 58% of the way down. I said yes, I stopped before it felt like misery. It was without a doubt the hardest, steepest, most challenging hike up I will have ever attempted. I can say that at the point I stopped I saw a most majestic and spiritual view of the Gunnison River emerging through the canyon walls feeling the mark of God's wonderful earthly creation. What was really cool as I took a break after climbing back up the 80-foot chain a mule deer saw the girls farther up the incline but not King Ralph and I, he got to us froze in shock of a human in arms reach, stood for a good twenty seconds and then bolted down that incline with lightening speed.
So we all went 2.5 days without a real shower; just boiled water for sponge baths, campfires and roasted marshmallows, singing songs together like we were the Gorneky's, dancing on the astro turf rug like we were in Saturday Night Fever, waiting and watching for that 18-month old male black bear roaming the campground to appear (which was always a miss for us)...in other words we had a great time in the Black Canyon connecting as family we are.