Some of the hardest and oldest rocks on earth form the sheer walls of 2,000-foot-deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the deepest and most impressive gorge in the state. The river cutting through the canyon falls faster than any other in North America—dropping 2,150 feet in under 50 miles—and the canyon bottom is so rugged that there are no trails along it. Unless you’re a serious mountaineer, you’ll have to content yourself with looking down into it from the rim, which is accessible on the north side via Hwy-92 and from US-50 on the south via Hwy-347. The visitors center (970/249-1914 or 970/641-2337) on the south rim provides details on hiking trails and camping and can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the canyon’s unique geology: For instance, unlike the Grand Canyon, with its layers of exposed rock, the Black Canyon is basically one solid hunk of stone, a half-mile-thick chunk of two-billion-year-old Precambrian gneiss (pronounced “nice”).

Upstream from the Black Canyon, US-50 parallels the Gunnison River, renowned for its excellent trout and landlocked salmon fishing, though sadly the once-raging waters have been backed up behind dams to form a series of reservoirs, jointly managed as the Curecanti National Recreation Area.