by Sandra Snell-Dobert
Ah, early September in the Gunnison Basin. My favorite time of year begins with fall’s quilt of color starting to ease over the hillsides. The last days of summer make me want to take advantage of the watery world and the shores of the largest body of water in Colorado, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Many people come to fish the depths, find the Kokanee salmon that are beginning their annual spawn cycle from the reservoir to the hatchery at Roaring Judy, but for me, it is my little wooden kayak. I poke along the shores, watching birds, admiring the Dillon Pinnacles and simply enjoying the freedom of self-propelled navigation.
September brings waterfowl migrating back south. The hearty throat yell of the sandhill crane blends with the familiar honk of the Canada goose. V’s of ducks arrow the sky and mergansers fish the shallows. I sometimes see white pelicans and white-faced ibis resting along Blue Mesa’s shores. Once, floating along the north shore near Dillon Pinnacles, I watched a black bear amble along the banks, occasionally wading in to drink, then, catching my scent, scrambling up the hillside to seek shelter in the oak brush.
By afternoon the wind kicks up, and retiring my little boat, I hike the Curecanti Creek Trail down into the Black Canyon. The trail starts from Pioneer Point on Highway 92, and winds its way down to Morrow Point Reservoir, with a surprisingly easy descent considering the view from the top. Wild geranium, gooseberry current, chokecherry and oak give way to Douglas fir and then to willow as I wind my way down the canyon slopes. American dippers, seemingly animated by the rush of the stream, sing their vibrant song. Dippers are among the few songbirds who sing year-round rather than just during the spring/summer breeding season. Near the bottom, canyon walls close in for an intimate feeling of oneness with rock and water. Quiet settles in as I rest, my feet in the cool water. I have time to reflect on the sweet summer season just past and consider the winter lurking just around the corner. Somehow, winter seems a long way ahead as canyon walls reflect their warmth of stored sunlight.
Boating and hiking on the same day….a perfect way to enjoy fall in Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Sandra Snell-Dobert is the Chief of Interpretation, Education, and Technology for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area as well as an avid boater and naturalist. Photos for this post were contributed by Stephen Dobert and the National Park Service.