CURECANTI NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
CURECANTI NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
102 Elk Creek
Gunnison, Colorado 81230
Three reservoirs, named for corresponding dams on the Gunnison River, form the heart of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Panoramic mesas, fjord-like reservoirs, and deep, steep and narrow canyons abound. Blue Mesa Reservoir is Colorado's largest body of water, and is the largest Kokanee Salmon fishery in the United States. Morrow Point Reservoir is the beginning of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and below, Crystal Reservoir is the site of the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Recently discovered dinosaur fossils, a 5,000 acre archeological district, a narrow gauge train, and traces of 6000 year old dwellings further enhance the offerings of Curecanti.
A SEMI-ARID SHRUBLANDSome visitors to Curecanti often describe the area as a high mountain desert. With the annual precipitation averaging 12 inches per year, the most accurate classification is semi-arid shrubland. The dominant plant species throughout Curecanti is Big Sagebrush, often mixed with a greener shrub called Rabbitbrush. However, a slight difference in elevation, moisture, or soil structure can result in a noticeable difference in the vegetation.
RIPARIAN ZONES AND DRAINAGESDriving into Curecanti from the east, the green pasture land is a result of human labor and irrigation, but the tall cottonwood trees and lush undergrowth of willow is the result of the Gunnison River. In this moisture rich riparian zone the Narrowleaf Cottonwood plays an important role. Its deep roots help stabilize the riverbank, and its lush growth of leaves and branches provide shade where many other plants can grow. Take a walk at Neversink to enjoy the Gunnison River and the life it supports.
PONDEROSA PINE AND DOUGLAS FIR FORESTHeading north from the recreation area towards the West Elk Mountains the vegetation thickens and the trees grow taller as the elevation changes. Just a seven mile drive north along the Soap Creek arm of Blue Mesa Reservoir to Curecanti's Ponderosa Campground will demonstrate this variation. Ponderosa Campground is scattered with ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and spruce trees. Although requiring more precipitation than sagebrush, a ponderosa pine forest signifies a dry environment, since they usually grow in places that receive less than 25 inches of precipitation per year.
THE CANYON WALLSThe geologic masterpiece called the Black Canyon of the Gunnison begins in Curecanti below Blue Mesa Dam. You can peer into the canyon from above, at one of the overlooks on Highway 92. Take a trail into the canyon or ride through the canyon on the Morrow Point Reservoir Boat Tour. No matter how you decide to view the canyon, you will probably notice a difference in the two walls of the canyon. The south-facing wall of the canyon is extremely steep and is sparsely vegetated with sagebrush and juniper trees. The north-facing wall is not as steep and often thick with Douglas fir, mountain maple, serviceberry, and a dense undergrowth.
FACILITIES AND ACTIVITIES OVERVIEW
Curecanti National Recreation Area offers visitors choices when it comes to choosing a campground. Use the detailed information below to decide which campground will fit the needs of you and/or your party best:
Cimarron Campground, Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-249-4074.
Details: Cimarron campground is accessible with 21 sites, 5 pull through sites, located in the vicinity of a historic narrow gauge railroad town. Water and flush toilets, Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad exhibits, visitor center, RV dump station, and easy access to fishing. Fee: $10.00 per night. No water available at beginning and end of season. No reservations.
Dry Gulch Campground, Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Nine sites among large cottonwood trees. Picnic tables, fire grates, vault toilets, water and horse corral. Fee: $10.00 per night. No reservations.
East Elk Creek (group campground), Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337.
Details: One group site located under large cottonwood trees. Accommodates a total of 50 people. Picnic shelter and tables, fire grates, vault toilets and water. Fee: $50.00 per night. East Elk Creek is available by reservation only. Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance.
East Portal, Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Fifteen sites are shaded by box elder trees. Campground is located near the historic Gunnison River Diversion Tunnel. Picnic tables, fire grates, vault toilets, water and visitor contact station. Fee: $10.00 per night. No reservations.
Elk Creek Campground, Open All Year, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Elk Creek Campground is accessible, has flush toilets, water, RV dump station, showers, marina, restaurant, and a visitor center. Fee: Loops A, B or C - $10.00 per night. Loop D (electric hookups) - $15.00 per night. No water available at beginning and end of season. Reservations may be made for Loops A and D. All sites in Loops A and D are premium sites and have a maximum 14 consecutive day stay in a 30 day period. Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance.
Gateview, Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Proceed north 6 miles on an improved narrow gravel road. Six sites located in a deep, narrow canyon. Picnic tables, fire grates, vault toilets and water. No fee. No reservations.
Lake Fork, Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Lake Fork Campground is accessible, has flush toilets, water, showers, marina, an RV dump station, visitor center, campground amphitheater and is close to Blue Mesa Dam. Fee: $10.00 per night. No water available at beginning and end of season. Reservations may be made for sites 31-87 (upper loop). Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance.
Ponderosa,Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Twenty-eight sites are located among scattered pine trees. Picnic tables, fire grates, vault toilets, water, boat ramp and horse corral. Fee: $10.00 per night.
Red Creek (individual and group sites), Open from Spring to Fall
Details: Sites located among large cottonwood trees. Picnic tables, fire grates, vault toilets and water. First two sites for individual camping. Individual Site Fee: $10.00 per night. Group Site Fee: $25.00. Group campsite accomodates 20 people and is available by reservation only. Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance.
Stevens Creek, Open from Spring to Fall, Phone 970-641-2337 ext 205.
Details: Stevens Creek is an accessible campground with 53 sites on Blue Mesa Reservoir, water, vault toilets, campground amphitheater, boat ramp and fishing access. Fee: $10.00 per night. Reservations may be made for Stevens Creek Loop A (20 sites). All sites in Loop A are premium sites and have a maximum 14 consecutive day stay in a 30 day period. Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance.
Although there are no designated swimming beaches at Curecanti, on a hot summer day a dip in Blue Mesa Reservoir can be refreshing and enjoyable. Water temperatures are always cold. Surface temperatures average about 65 degrees Farenheit in the summer, and get even colder as you go deeper.
The shoreline of the reservoir is steep and rocky in most places, so finding a good swimming spot can be more difficult than you may expect. Good spots include the Bay of Chickens, located 1.2 miles west of Elk Creek, Dry Creek, 1 mile east of Elk Creek, and Old Highway 50 beach, adjacent to the Elk Creek Campground. All have designated "no wake" areas for motorboat traffic.
1) Swimmers must be aware of boats and personal watercraft. Do not assume they see you.
2) Cliff jumping is extremely dangerous and highly discouraged. Each year individuals have been seriously injured, paralyzed or killed from hitting unseen rocks below the fluctuating reservoir surface.
3) Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia, which can be brought on by exposure to cold water.
Each of the three reservoirs within Curecanti National Recreation Area has a character all its own, and each provides a different type of boating experience.
BLUE MESA RESERVOIR:
Twenty mile long Blue Mesa Reservoir, with its 96 miles of shoreline, affords many opportunities for boating. One can lay back, enjoy the sun, and sail on one of the reservoir's three open basins. Boaters can explore several arms of the reservoir which reach into secluded canyons. Water skiers can practice their sport in the late months of summer, July and August, when waters warm slightly.
All boaters on Blue Mesa Reservoir should be aware that strong afternoon winds, sometimes accompanied by storms, can cause hazardous conditions. Be weatherwise: watch for threatening cloud build ups. As soon as strong winds begin to blow, head for shore.
Water temperatures remain cold through much of the season. Windsurfers and water skiers are advised to wear wet suits. All motorized and/or state-registered vessels on Blue Mesa Reservoir will be required to have a boat permit.
$30.00 for an annual permit (calendar year)
$10.00 for a 14-day permit
$4.00 for a 2-day permit
These user fees are half-price for those visitors who possess the federal Golden Age or Access permits.
MORROW POINT RESERVOIR:
For the more adventurous and very hearty, Morrow Point Reservoir can provide a fabulous canoeing or sea kayaking trip. The adventure begins with hauling your boat and gear into the canyon. The easiest access to the reservoir is via the Pine Creek Trail. This trail consists of approximately 232 steps into the canyon. From the bottom of the stairs, the trail follows the reservoir for about a mile. You can put your boat in a short distance past the end of the stairs.
Once you're on the water you will realize all the effort has been worth it. The reservoir is almost twelve miles long. The first half-mile of water is swift, but then becomes calm and still. The scenery of the canyon is spectacular. There are several boat-in campsites in the canyon, so you can make this a full weekend outing. At the end of your trip, head back to the Pine Creek Trail to exit the canyon. The current may make it difficult to paddle back to the base of the stairs, but you can easily make it to the bottom of the stairs via the foot trail.
Some whitewater kayakers will haul their boats into Morrow Point Reservoir just to hit the a perfect wave known as a fluffy muffin, which is great for surfing, kart-wheeling, and having fun. The fluffy muffin forms about half a mile past the base of the steps. Be prepared for water around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and fluctuating water levels.
Like Morrow Point Reservoir, boating on Crystal Reservoir is limited to hand carried craft. The access trail for Crystal Reservoir is reached via the Mesa Creek Trail located near Cimarron. Fluctuating water levels and releases from Morrow Point Dam can create navigational problems. Tricky currents, protruding rocks, and backwashes caused by water rushing over submerged rocks, can overturn the inattentive boater. In addition, conditions along the river section on Crystal can change drastically during the course of a day. Heavy spring runoff from Cimarron and Mesa Creeks can further complicate matters. Before launching, be sure to assess the capabilities of your equipment and the condition of the water.
Warning: Reservoir levels change without warning! Be prepared for quickly changing weather conditions, and very cold water temperatures!
There are few passing boats on Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs to assist in an emergency, so wear your personal flotation device (PFD) at all times!