Home Grown: Gunnison Gorge

Nice Brown (the fish, not Werner, though he is often tan)

Nice Brown (the fish, not Werner, though he is often tan)

If you have never been to the Gunnison Gorge, do yourself a favor and get there are fast as you can!  The Gorge is one of the most spectacular whitewater, fly fishing and geologic journeys in North America.

The main access point, Chuckar Trail, can be reached by heading east on Falcon Rd., just south of Olathe and then taking Chuckar “road” 7 miles to the rim of the gorge. High clearance vehicles are mandatory on the drive in and boaters joke that it is a class 3 river with a class 5 drive.

The short hike to the river meanders through the Gunnison Gorge’s geologic story with views of the metamorphic black rock as well as the brightly colored Entrada and Morrison sedimentary layers.  The Black Canyon National Monument, upstream of the gorge was named for the dark-colored metamorphic layer. This Precambrian black rock is 1.5 billion years old and represents the basement floor of North America. Staring up at these ancient walls as you float or fish your way through the day, settles the mind and the heart.

In addition to the Chuckar Trail, there are three other trails leading into the gorge: Bobcat, Duncan and Ute. Bobcat and Duncan are steep 1.5 mile trails that good hikers love as they get you to the water in a hurry. The Ute trail is much longer at 4.5 miles, but less steep and it takes you into Ute Park, one of the most beautiful stretches of the Gunnison and prime fly fishing. Ute Park’s namesake is tied to the fact that this area provides one of the only fords in the entire Black Canyon and was widely used by the Ute tribe.

Not only is Chuckar Trail a significant hiking access, it also provides a mule trail for carrying whitewater rafts and equipment into the gorge. Rafting the gorge is the ultimate experience, spread over a couple of days, the 14 miles offers boaters a chance to really enjoy the sandy beaches, side canyons, geology and of course, the incredible fishing and rapids. With 16 named rapids, the whitewater is challenging, fun and rewarding.

IMGP6305The fishing is some of the best in the Southern Rockies, if not the country. Big browns and rainbows lurk in the shadows of sheer canyon walls, waiting to ambush grasshoppers, salmon-flies and whatever other unfortunate insects happen to fall into the river.

If you are looking for a truly deluxe adventure, consider hiring Gunnison River Expeditions (970-874-8184, gre@sopris.net) the gorge’s original outfitter, owned by Al De’Grange.

Al has been associated with the gorge for over 35 years as a guide and outfitter. He also manages the Pleasure park bar and fly shop located at the takeout of the gorge. While there might be a better fly shop and possibly a better bar, there certainly isn’t a better fly shop bar in the world. The Pleasure Park offers well maintained boat ramps, ice cold beer and local lore, the perfect complement to a summer trip through the gorge.

Whether you hike in for the day, back pack in for the weekend or spend a couple days floating its entire length, the Gorge will leave you breathless, humbled and desperate for more!

Editor’s note: This blog welcomes back another member of Telluride Inside… and Out’s growing family of contributors and reintroduces Werner Catsman’s column, “Homegrown.” Werner was indeed home grown: he was born and raised in the Telluride region. Werner still lives and works in San Miguel County, where he is president of  Finbro Construction, 970-519-1379.

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