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Early American Indians (and, later, Utes and Anglos) avoided the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, believing that no human could survive a trip through its depths. Now, the deepest and most spectacular 14 miles of this 48-mile canyon make up one of America's newest national parks.

The Black Canyon, which had been a national monument since 1933, became a national park on October 21, 1999. In a statement issued after the bill-signing ceremony, President Bill Clinton called it a "true natural treasure," adding, "Its nearly vertical walls, rising a half-mile high, harbor one of the most spectacular stretches of wild river in America."

The Black Canyon ranges in depth from 1,730 to 2,700 feet. Its width at its narrowest point (cleverly called "The Narrows") is only 40 feet at the river. This deep slash in the earth was created through 2 million years of erosion, a process that's still ongoing. At 30,300 acres, the Black Canyon is among the smallest of America's national parks.

Most visitors view the canyon from the South Rim Road, site of the visitor center, or the less used North Rim Road. Short paths branching off both roads lead to splendid view points with signs explaining the canyon's unique geology.

The park has hiking trails along both rims and backcountry hiking routes down into the canyon, and offers excellent trout fishing for anglers willing to make the trek to the canyon floor. It also provides an abundance of thrills for the experienced rock climbers who challenge its sheer canyon walls. In winter, much of the park is closed to motor vehicles, but it's a delight for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

The Black Canyon shares its eastern boundary with Curecanti National Recreation Area, which offers boating and fishing on three reservoirs, as well as hiking and camping.