Crested Butte and Black Canyon National Park

August 19-25 – Gunnison Area

This journey takes us to the Gunnison Area of Colorado which is in the Southwest region.  Ross and I have been to Crested Butte on several visits at various times of year and it never disappoints! We tried to get a camping spot in Crested Butte but everything was booked so instead we camped at the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  This area was halfway between Crested Butte and the Black Canyon National Park so we were able to explore both. 

Our first full day we drove into Crested Butte and did a beautiful hike right outside of town along the Slate River through a beautiful valley. We knew that we would be a little late for the peak wildflower season but we were still blessed with some fantastic colors and views. I should mention for those of you not familiar with Crested Butte, that this area is the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. In July there are fields of wildflowers of all colors that absolutely take your breath away. We were fortunate still to find some flowers and majestic views this late in the summer. There were so many spots along the way that I could have stopped to paint and will hopefully get back to or will just have to paint them at home in my studio. We drove around the center part of town and as always were in love the charm of the homes and main street.  Crested Butte is a special place that we would highly recommend visiting particularly in July during wildflower season or in September/October to see the fall color leaves of the aspen trees.  We haven’t skied Crested Butte yet but are thinking this winter it might just be on our list.

Our second day was spent at the Black Canyon National Park of Gunnison.  The main park area is fairly small and very limited on hiking due to the sheer cliff drop offs, so it is mostly a park that you drive through and walk out to various overlooks.  The views were incredible and the steepness of the canyon  amazing.  The canyon is about 2000 feet deep and in some sections only 40 feet wide.  There are striations in the black rock formed by molten that squeezed through the cracks and then hardened. The Gunnison River carved the canyon when it was free flowing but it is now dammed so it is lower and calmer.

One of my favorite viewing spots was ironically called Painted Rock because of the huge lines of molten that flowed through this rock face which is the steepest rock face in Colorado (2300 feet high). We had hoped to have an afternoon to sit and paint however it was extremely hot and there was absolutely no shade.  Buddy was struggling with heat as were we, so we headed back to our campsite.

A video to give you the sense of depth of the Canyon

The next few days we spent hiking in the morning on various trails in Crested Butte.  The flowers (even late in the season) , the forest of Aspen trees and the mountain views were spectacular. 

On one afternoon I started on a painting and was stopped suddenly due to an afternoon thunderstorm.  We went back to the same location the following day where I finished up the painting.  I forgot to pack my travel easel and umbrella but used the tailgate of the truck to step up my paints.

Plein Air Painting with what you have

I am not particularly  happy with the results but can always learn from each painting. If I painted it all over again I would frame the painting differently so that the upper section wasn’t divided so evenly into 3 sections and would have had more variation in the lighting.  I even experimented with cutting the painting into two (the benefit of working on watercolor paper) and I think I like the result better.  Let me know what you prefer.

Peanut Lake Painting
Cropped Part 1
Cropped Part 2

And of course, we can’t end this trip without mentioning our amazing traveling dog Buddy.  His present this time around was a stuffed lamb. He was thoroughly tuckered out by the end of five days of hiking and slept most of the way home with his two favorite things right by his nose.  Ah…..the life of a dog!

6 Comments on “Crested Butte and Black Canyon National Park

  1. Great blog Sue! Beautiful. Love the painting split in two. Hope all is well.

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  2. We love this blog as we just left this area last week and consider it part home.! Chuck prefers cropped pic 2, i prefer the first pic and Chuck was wondering if you would put the two cropped pictures next to eachother as a pair. We love you two.. I know you have big plans for the second half of the month of Sept of which we will be praying very hard for) but wondering if you are camping early in Sept.

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  3. Wow sounds like a fantastic trip! I like all of the paintings but if I were to select one, it would be the cropped vertical one.
    Zadie has a lamby too-it’s her absolute favorite!

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  4. I haven’t seen Crested Butte, but it looks like a wonderful place to hike (and paint). We loved Black Canyon of the Gunnison. If you get a chance on a future visit to drive into the canyon – definitely without the airstream in tow – you should! It’s so serene, and one of was my favorite places to just quietly enjoy my surroundings.

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  5. Great story. I especially like the first photo of Buddy in the flower field. 🙂

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