History of the Black Canyon

Discovering the History and Beauty of Black Canyon National Park

The Black Canyon National Park is a gem located in western Colorado, known for its steep and dark cliffs that drop down into the Gunnison River. However, few people know the interesting history behind this natural wonder. The creation of the Black Canyon National Park involved a complex and fascinating series of events, spanning decades and involving various groups and individuals.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park at Sunset


The first documented sighting of the Black Canyon was in 1776 by two Spanish explorers, Dominguez and Escalante. However, it was not until the late 1800s that the canyon began to receive more attention. In 1881, geologist Grove Karl Gilbert published a detailed report on the canyon’s geological features. Later that year, a group of surveyors under the direction of Charles Dutton explored the canyon and documented their findings.


In the early 1900s, the area around the Black Canyon began to attract settlers and miners. A small community, known as East Portal, was established at the bottom of the canyon to support the construction of a railway tunnel through the canyon wall. The tunnel was completed in 1909 and served as a vital transportation link between the towns of Montrose and Gunnison.

Meanwhile, miners in the area were busy extracting gold, silver, and other minerals from the surrounding mountains. In 1905, a major gold discovery was made at the nearby Camp Bird Mine, which brought a rush of prospectors to the area.


As early as the 1910s, there were calls to protect the Black Canyon from further development and exploitation. In 1916, the National Park Service was created, and the following year, a proposal was put forward to create a national park around the canyon. However, due to political opposition and concerns over the feasibility of managing such a remote area, the proposal was not approved.

In the following years, various groups and individuals continued to advocate for the preservation of the Black Canyon. Notably, photographer Ansel Adams visited the canyon in the 1940s and captured stunning images that helped raise public awareness of its beauty and significance.


It was not until 1999 that the Black Canyon was finally designated as a national park. The park covers over 30,000 acres and includes not only the Black Canyon itself but also surrounding areas of wilderness and forest.

Today, the Black Canyon National Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike. The park offers a range of activities, including hiking, fishing, and camping, as well as opportunities for wildlife viewing and stargazing. However, the park’s most impressive feature remains the Black Canyon itself, with its towering cliffs and dramatic views.

Photo Tours

If you have an interest in taking a photography tour to capture the natural beauty of the Black Canyon check out our Black Canyon National Park Photo Tour.

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