Sunday, April 10, 2011

2011 - February 22nd - Unaweep Canyon & Gateway Area, Colorado

I have spent a lot of my days off since moving to Grand Junction hiking. That is precisely what I planned to do on this particular day until I injured myself the night before playing basketball. I thought it would be fun to do a half-twist in the air and land on the back of my shoulders with my head whipping into the court. I can still hear the cracking noise echoing through my head. Fortunately, aside from a headache and a little bit of nausea, I was all right. I didn't seek medical help at all, but I'm assuming I had a mild concussion. I decided to take it easy over my "weekend" and not doing anything too physical.

Of course, I became restless and wanted to explore. This gave me a good excuse to go on a drive, even with high gas prices. I figured it was all right to explore a little. I decided to take the Unaweep-Tabegauche (pronounced You-Na-Weep - Tabe-Watch) Byway to Gateway, Colorado. The road follows Unaweep Canyon, which may be a misnomer because the canyon has a natural watershed divide in its middle. There is both an East Creek and West Creek that flow through its steep sided gorge.

The sun was getting low in the sky as I set out and I was hoping for some good low-angle sunlight on canyon walls pictures. I had heard from various people at work that the Gateway area was gorgeous, but I was honestly unprepared. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The road, Colorado 141 departs US50 at Whitewater and crosses the Gunnison River. It follows East Creek closely, twisting and turning at times along the shallow lower canyon. Eventually, with a decent amount of elevation gain, the road crosses higher-altitude meadows lined by steep canyon walls. It also widens out here. Near the divide, the meadows still had a lot of snow-cover and ponds of melt-water.

Guarding the canyon like a sentinel just west of the divide is Thimble Rock Point. I decided to get on its light side before taking any pictures and was pleasantly surprised to find a small, derelict mansion for a foreground.

Farther westward, the canyon tightens up again for a while before ejecting out to the a wider valley. Here, East Creek and the Unaweep Canyon meets the Dolores River, along with John Brown Canyon and Lumsden Canyon.

The town of Gateway is very small, with only a few residences and businesses, along with the new Gateway Canyons Resort which spralls on the western side of the Dolores River. The resort is tastefully done, from what I could see, but it is larger than the town.

It was from this side of the river that I stepped out of my vehicle and marveled at the surroundings. Four canyons all come together at one point with a fifth draining the confluence. Sandstone walls and palisades tower over the area making you feel very, very small. It's incredible.

I spent a few minutes taking pictures upstream into the Dolores Canyon...

Looking back up into Unaweep Canyon

...and somehow, I had failed to notice what is known as "The Palisade" looming behind me.

I was absolutely spellbound. The way the evening sun hit the sandstone, the deep blue sky, the altocumulus field and even the unique geology of the formation, it all captivated me. I drove around the area for a while, trying different perspectives.

Dolores River

As the light was beginning to fade, I decided to head back south along 141 (It "elbows" at Gateway, coming in from the east-northeast and then leaves south-southeast) up the Dolores River Canyoon.

I only made it four or five miles south before I had to stop and take it all in. The winding river was gorgeous set against the deep red glow of the surrounding canyon walls. I tried desperately to get good exposures with my point-and-shoot camera and wasn't totally displeased with how they came out.

Once the sun had set, I returned to Gateway but didn't linger. I headed back on 141 into the Unaweep Canyon, before it began to narrow. With the road's proximity to West Creek, I thought I might be able to take some low-light water shots.

I crawled through a few obstacles and found myself alongside the creek where I took some photos.

Light got pretty low, so I returned to Der Schploder and headed into the canyon. On a whim, I pulled into a picnic area a few miles up the road and climbed a wooden fence (there was a gate but in the darkness, I was unable to manipulate it) and cracked off a few more shots. (Still on West Creek)

I was very pleased with these shots, though they came out a bit noisy with my point-and-shoot. Have to work with what I have, though!

Anyway, the rest of the trip back was dark, so I didn't stop anymore. I did almost miss a corner in the tight lower canyon on the East Side, but almost was as close as I got.

All in all, I'm very happy with the images and very happy with my exploration to Gateway. I will be back.

NextPost: Old Highway 6 To Utah


Michael Carlson said...

I see the work with light has become second nature to you my friend. - Keep it up and I will travel over the great mountain in search of the thunder.


sknr31 said...

I like the canyons at sunset, making everything red glorious....great post!

Dann Cianca said...

Thanks, MikeyC! ... you know, you could come out on Wednesday... :)

Skinner: Thanks, dude!!

Pat Boomer said...

Very nice Dann
Really enjoying your writeups too, easy to follow along and see where you were.

Dann Cianca said...

Thanks Boomer! I like to have a written record to remember these expeditions by... kind of like a storm chase report. :)