Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gunnison Gorge & Crawford, CO (6/10/2017)

Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area is a large tract of the adobe badlands I sometimes refer to, actually consisting of volcanic ash that has hardened into near rock density.  Located just north of the Black Canyon, some rafting and kayaking is done in the Gunnison River through the gorge.  The conservation area, managed by BLM, is mostly used for ATV operation.  Frankly, it is raw, desolate land suitable for almost no other use.

In researching for something else, I stumbled upon a reference to Eagle Rock Shelter Archeological Site.  Digging deeper, I learned this site, only about 35 miles from home, is where some of the oldest human artifacts in the country have been found.  Evidence proves that humans used this area as far back as 12,800 years.  I had to make a visit to such a special place.

Getting to this site isn't difficult at all.  A couple miles on a dirt road, rocky in places but pretty tame overall, led to a gravel parking area and an unsigned trailhead.  The trail is good, dropping about 200 feet into the gorge over 1/3 mile.  It was one of our hottest days, 95F, so I knew the return would be a little tougher than the trip down.  Before reaching the floor of the gorge, the trail rounded a rock outcropping and I saw the remnants of the excavation.

I later read that the archeological team had concluded that all the artifacts had been found, so the excavation seems to have been abandoned, but looks ready for further work if someone decides it is warranted.  The rock walls are covered with petroglyphs, but erosion and other factors have rendered many of them indecipherable.  A few animals can be identified, probably more recent additions.  While petroglyphs can't be definitively dated, some are thought to be at least 4000 years old.

Among the oldest artifacts are seeds and small animal bones, indicating the people were not big game hunters.

Since I still had plenty of time that afternoon, I decided to visit Needle Rock, another twenty miles from Gunnison Gorge, near the town of Crawford.  Needle Rock is a volcanic plug, but was formed differently than the others I've written about.  In this case, magma was being pushed toward the surface in the process of forming a volcano.  However, the layers of sedimentary rock above were hard enough to prevent breaking the surface.  The magma eventually hardened and the higher layers eroded away, leaving the exposed plug.  All this took about 25 million years.
The formation looks much different on the far side.
Leaving the area, I was struck by the pretty valley and surrounding mountains, wondering if the farmers and ranchers appreciated their great views.  I also came across a ranch that raises yaks, the first I've seen in Colorado.

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