MONTROSE – Picture yourself standing at the edge of Black Canyon on a dark night, the trail lit only by candles, listening to a park ranger read the actual words of the first man to navigate the canyon in 1901.
That’s just one scene from a program that rangers at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park have planned for this Sunday, Dec. 5 starting at 7 p.m., called Canyon Retrospective. The park will also offer another program on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m., called Winter Solstice at the Rim that includes ranger-led snowshoeing and telescope viewing of the moon.
During the Canyon Retrospective, Park Ranger Kevin Sweeney said he and other rangers will read aloud from writings about the canyon, all from people who visited it at this time of year.
Excerpts from the journal of Abraham Lincoln Fellows will be read, along with material from sources such as river runner Ellsworth Kolb and the park’s founder, the Rev. Mark Warner. Fellows and his partner William Torrence made the first successful trip down the Gunnison River at the bottom of the canyon in 1901, Sweeney said.
“We are going along with the holidays, and incorporating themes of peace and family and what the canyon was speaking to these people, who were mostly here in December,” he said.
The Visitors Center will be open until about 9 p.m., Sweeney said, with warm drinks like hot chocolate and coffee, but no food.
“We will have candles around different areas near the visitors center in the evening, all the way down the walkway and at some other areas too,” he said, “and we will have different stages set up where visitors can stop off and hear about explorers like Fellows and Torrence.”
Visitors should dress warmly and bring a flashlight, Sweeney said. Though the readings only last about 45 minutes, visitors can hang around the visitors’ center and enjoy seeing the canyon in different lighting, and without crowds of tourists.
The second program on Dec. 19 will be just two days before the full moon, and visitors can view a video on the park at the visitors’ center and use its powerful telescope to see the surface of the moon, which Sweeney said is “pretty incredible with the dark winter sky.”
The snowshoe walks will be between 20 and 30 minutes, Sweeney said, and are accompanied by a park ranger.
“It’s a good opportunity for someone who’s never been on snowshoes before,” he said. “The moon will almost be full, and it really lights up the canyon in a unique way, especially with snow on it.”
Both events are free, and the park does not charge an entry fee during winter.
Some people think the park is closed during the winter, Sweeney said, but the visitors’ center is open year round even though the South Rim Drive is closed past that point.
But wintertime is a wonderful time to explore the park through cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, he said, and he hopes more locals will plan more trips to the park.
“Wintertime is a great time to come up, with Rim Road snowshoeing and cross country skiing,” he said. “We’ve got about a foot of snow right now, and we thought this is a good way to get people to come in the winter.”
Winter Solstice at the Rim is the first year that the park has combined all the activities into one night, Sweeney said, and he hopes both programs will lure more people to enjoy their national park.
“We wanted to come up with ways to get local folks to come and experience our park when all the tourists are gone.”