We started climbing today, and are staying in Montrose, Colorado, at an elevation of ~5900 feet. In the next two days we'll climb over Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet! Today's ride led us closer to the tall Rockies, many of them with lots of snow, esp. to the south of where we'll cross the Continental Divide (at Monarch Pass).
After arrival and showers at the hotel, we were then given the chance to explore "Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park", but only about 12 riders decided to ride in the vans to the park. I guess folks are pretty tired!
We rode in the vans about 7 uphill miles from the hotel (a preview of tomorrow's route), before turning north and climbing 7 fairly steep miles to the park. Interestingly, there is an option for riders to climb to the park on their bikes tomorrow, then return down the same way and continue the route up the Rockies. Last year 12 riders did that--more power to them!
We then explored the canyon, carved through softer volcanic, then (lower down) through harder, older crystalline rock (over the last 2 million years) by the Gunnison River. We had earlier seen the Gunnison at its downriver junction with the Colorado River at the aptly named Grand Junction. Again, I have lots of great photos, though none show how vast and deep the canyon is. At it's deepest part, it is over 2700 feet high. In the area shown, I think the canyon is about 1500 to 2000 feet deep. If you "double click" on the picture (did you know you can do that?) you should be able to see part of the Gunnison River in the left-middle portion. Look to the right of Mike's head (he's the man on the left), and you can see the green water.
We were again at ~8000 feet here in the park, and the air was thinner. After returning to the vans, we again descended to ~5900 feet, where the air seems much "thicker". It was 96 degrees as we walked to dinner (a dry heat, fortunately). We should have nice weather tomorrow as we start the big climbs. It will be interesting riding up to those high altitudes--we've talked about the importance of riding more slowly, drinking more fluids, and resting when needed.