History of the Black Canyon

of the Gunnison National Park

The Black Canyon was originally designated a national monument in 1933, but was renamed a national park in 1999, placing it alongside other treasures of the Rocky Mountain West like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. 

Its most distinguishing feature is its narrow depth, which results in the sun’s rays only reaching the bottom for a few minutes every day (which is also the origin of the canyon’s name). The dark volcanic rock, often slashed through by lighter pink and brown minerals, make for a unique personality, and endless gasps and appreciation.

Aside from its place among the nation's great scenic treasures, the Black Canyon has an important place in the history of the Montrose community and the Uncompahgre River Valley.  The Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge rails once traced the upper reaches of the canyon, serving as a lifeline for transportation and commerce.  The East Portal of the Gunnison Tunnel, located in the canyon below the South Rim park entrance, diverts water from the Gunnison River to the thirsty agricultural lands of the valley. This six-mile long tunnel, completed in 1909, is an enduring engineering masterpiece and a testimony to the intrepid spirit of Montrose. 

Spotlight on Montrose