Curecanti National Recreation Area

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Curecanti National Recreation Area
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The Dillon Pinnacles in Curecanti NRA.
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Location in Colorado
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Location in the United States
Location Gunnison and Montrose counties, Colorado, United States
Nearest city Gunnison, CO
Coordinates 38°27′17″N107°19′37″W / 38.45472°N 107.32694°W / 38.45472; -107.32694 Coordinates: 38°27′17″N107°19′37″W / 38.45472°N 107.32694°W / 38.45472; -107.32694
Area43,095 acres (174.40 km2) [1]
EstablishedFebruary 6, 1965
Visitors924,468(in 2011) [2]
Governing body National Park Service
Website Curecanti National Recreation Area

Curecanti National Recreation Area(Pronounced /kɜːrɪˈkɑːnt/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ) (locally) or /krɪˈkɑːnt/ . [3] ) is a National Park Service unit located on the Gunnison River in western Colorado. Established in 1965, Curecanti National Recreation Area is responsible for developing and managing recreational facilities on three reservoirs, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Morrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir, constructed on the upper Gunnison River in the 1960s by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to better utilize the vital waters of the Colorado River and its major tributaries. A popular destination for boating and fishing, Curecanti offers visitors two marinas, traditional and group campgrounds, hiking trails, boat launches, and boat-in campsites. The state's premiere lake trout and Kokanee salmon fisheries, Curecanti is a popular destination for boating and fishing, and is also a popular area for ice-fishing in the winter months.

Contents

Park history

In 1922 seven western states, all of which contained some part of the Colorado River or its major tributaries, signed an agreement to regulate the use of the vital waters of the river system. Allotments were made and each state was guaranteed a certain amount of water annually. To facilitate this effort, the member states were divided into upper and lower groups, based on geography. Recognizing their total dependence on the upper group states, whose mountain snow melts contributed the most water to the river system, the states of the lower group, California, Nevada, and Arizona, began to build dams, such as the magnificent Hoover Dam, to create storage reservoirs on their parts of the river system. By the 1950s, the upper states, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming, obligated to send a set amount of water downstream regardless of seasonal fluctuations in water levels, also began to see the wisdom of creating a system of dams and reservoirs. To grant the four states the authority to begin this process, Congress passed the Colorado River Storage Act on April 11, 1956. An important legal milestone in the tortuous history of the western water law, the Act created the Colorado River Storage Project, and authorized four main projects, one of which was located on the Gunnison River in western Colorado, the fifth largest tributary of the Colorado River. [4] This project, originally called the Curecanti Project, was tasked with building three dams on the upper reaches of the Gunnison, approximately 27 miles west of the city of Gunnison.

The resulting reservoirs, Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal, would not only make possible water storage for transfer to the lower group states, but also for local agricultural use. Impounding this section of the river would also create new opportunities for flood control, the generation of hydro-electric power, and recreation. To help fulfill the recreation aspect of the project the National Park Service was given the responsibility to design and manage recreational opportunities on the three reservoirs. In 1965 the Park Service formed a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation that established Curecanti National Recreation Area, a new unit that would encompass all three reservoirs, as well as short sections of the river above and below, build campgrounds, marinas and lake access points, protect, research and interpret the natural environment and local history, and manage game and fish populations. [5]

Units and access

Beginning on the river approximately 5 miles west of Gunnison, and ending on the river at the eastern border of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Curecanti contains four main areas:

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir from the air. Curecanti National Recreation Area, Near Gunnison, Colorado (9179285107).jpg
Blue Mesa Reservoir from the air.

Created by the construction of Blue Mesa Dam in 1966, Blue Mesa Reservoir is Colorado's largest body of water. Fed by the Lake Fork Arm of the Gunnison River, Soap Creek, and Cebolla Creek, the long, broad lake is 20 miles (32 km) long, has 96 miles (154 km) of shoreline, and is the largest Lake Trout and Kokanee salmon fishery in the United States. The majority of the park's visitor and recreational facilities are located around Blue Mesa and can be accessed by that section of U.S. 50 between Gunnison and Montrose, which traverses the entire length of the reservoir. Other facilities can be found on the lake's deep arms, such as Cebolla Creek and Soap Creek, which can only be reached by boat or unpaved road.

Morrow Point Reservoir

Located immediately west of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point Reservoir was created by the construction of Morrow Point Dam located 12 miles west of Blue Mesa Dam. Located in the upper reaches of the Black Canyon, the narrow, steep-sided Morrow Point offers visitors a very different environment than the expansive Blue Mesa. More remote and difficult to access than Blue Mesa, Morrow Point offers few recreational facilities but can be accessed by hand-launched boats from Pine Creek, a trailhead on U.S. 50 approximately 1 mile west of Blue Mesa Dam.

The Needle

Morrow Point Reservoir is the location of the Curecanti Needle, a striking and unique 700-ft tall granite spire on the reservoir's southern bank. For many years the Needle was a well-known symbol of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, who used the easily recognizable spire as a marketing symbol for their Black Canyon Route, which passed the Needle on the north side of the river. Now a popular destination for climbers, the Needle can only be accessed by hand-launched boat, or by crossing the frozen river in winter.

Morrow Point Reservoir in winter. Morrow Point Reservoir.JPG
Morrow Point Reservoir in winter.

Crystal Reservoir

The most remote and least accessible of the three reservoirs, Crystal was formed by the opening of Crystal Dam in 1976. Begun in 1973, seven years after the completion of Blue Mesa Dam, Crystal, located six miles from Morrow Point Dam, was the last of the three dams of the Curecanti Project to be completed when it opened in 1976. The smallest of the three reservoirs, Crystal can be accessed from U.S. 50 at Cimarron, where a short road takes visitors to the water immediately south of Morrow Point Dam.

East Portal

Located two miles below Crystal Dam at the entry to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, East Portal is the location of the intake tunnel and diversion dam of the Gunnison Tunnel, a Bureau of Reclamation irrigation project begun in 1902 to divert river water approximately 6 miles from the Gunnison to the dry lands west of Montrose. The East Portal area includes lake access for fishing, developed picnic areas, and both drive-up and drive-in campgrounds. Though part of Curecanti, East Portal can only be accessed by the seasonal East Portal Road, a very steep twisting road located inside the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Visitor and recreation facilities

There are three visitor centers in the recreation area, all operated by the National Park Service:

Boating

There are also two marinas and five boat launches along the shores of Blue Mesa Reservoir:

Both Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs can be accessed by hand-launched watercraft from trailheads at Pine Creek and Cimarron, both of which can be reached via U.S. 50.

Recreation

Curecanti offers a number of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, boat-in, developed, and primitive camping, hiking, horseback riding, and hunting. Facilities on the river east of Blue Mesa include developed picnic areas at Riverway, Neversink, Cooper Ranch, and Beaver Creek, a kayak/canoe launch at Riverway and a nature trail at Neversink. All of these facilities can be reached on U.S. 50, 5 miles west of Gunnison. The area around Blue Mesa Reservoir contains 8 developed campgrounds, two of which are designated for groups. These range from the 160-site Elk Creek on the main body of the lake to smaller, more remote sites, like Ponderosa and Gateview, located on arms of the lake. Several of the campsites can accommodate RV's, but only Elk Creek offers electrical hook-ups. [6] Boaters may camp overnight in 4 free camping areas with a total of 9 individual sites. Boaters may also camp on the southern shore of the Cebolla and Iola Basins, as long as campsites are not within a half-mile of any developed area, bridge, maintained public road or other boat-in/backcountry campsite. [7]

Recreational opportunities at Morrow Point Reservoir include boating (hand-carried craft only), primitive camping, and hiking. There are three small developed areas with lake access, the Pine Creek Trailhead, accessible via U.S. 50 approximately 1 mile west of Blue Mesa Dam, the Pioneer Point Overlook, north of the reservoir on Colorado Highway 92, approximately 5.5 miles west of Blue Mesa Dam, and the Hermit's Rest Trailhead, on Co. 92 approximately 17 miles west of Blue Mesa Dam. Pine Creek offers lake access for hand-carried craft and access to boat-in campsites. Pioneer Point Overlook offers a scenic viewing area and is the trailhead for the strenuous Curecanti Creek trail, a 4-mile (round trip) trail with a 900 ft. elevation change. Two campsites with picnic tables, fire grates, and composting toilets are located at the end of the trail. [8] Hermit's Rest Trailhead gives access to the steep Hermit's Rest Trail, a 6-mile round trip with an 1800 ft. elevation change that ends with two campsites equipped with picnic tables, fire grates, and composting toilets. [8]

Bridge over Crystal Reservoir at Cimarron. Bridge over the Gunnison River below Morrow Point Dam, Colorado.jpg
Bridge over Crystal Reservoir at Cimarron.

Recreational opportunities around Crystal Reservoir include boating (hand-carried craft only), camping, and hiking. There are two small developed areas near the reservoir, Mesa Creek Trailhead and Crystal Creek Trailhead. Mesa Creek Trailhead is located immediately west of Point Morrow Dam, and can be accessed from a one-mile road running north of U.S. 50 at Cimarron.

Preserved rail bridge over Cimarron Creek Cimarron Rail - theperfectstorm.jpg
Preserved rail bridge over Cimarron Creek

Hand-launched watercraft can be launched into Crystal from Mesa Creek. [9] A single boat-in campsite is located approximately 4 miles west of Mesa Creek at the mouth of Crystal Creek. Mesa Creek is also the trailhead for the Mesa Creek Trail, a fairly to moderately strenuous 1.5 mile round trip that crosses the reservoir on a footbridge and travels west along the north shore. [8] Though Mesa Creek is a day-use facility, developed campsites are available at nearby Cimarron. [10] Crystal Creek Trailhead is located on Colorado Highway 92, 24 miles west of Blue Mesa Dam and offers access to the 5-mile (round trip) Crystal Creek Trail. Moderately strenuous, Crystal Creek trail does reach the water but ends at an overlook 1800 ft. above the reservoir. [8]

Other recreational facilities at Curecanti include horse corrals, for equestrian campers, at Dry Gulch, Ponderosa, and Soap Creek, and the Dillon Pinnacles Trail, a moderately strenuous 4 mile round trip to the Dillon Pinnacles, a ridge of strikingly eroded volcanic rock that has become one of the most identifiable images of the park. [8]

Other attractions

Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Narrow Gauge Trestle NarrowGaugeRailroad.JPG
Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Narrow Gauge Trestle

Notes

    Related Research Articles

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park National park in Colorado, United States

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an American national park located in western Colorado and managed by the National Park Service. There are two primary entrances to the park: the south rim entrance is located 15 miles (24 km) east of Montrose, while the north rim entrance is 11 miles (18 km) south of Crawford and is closed in the winter. The park contains 12 miles (19 km) of the 48-mile (77 km) long Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. The national park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, but the canyon continues upstream into Curecanti National Recreation Area and downstream into Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The canyon's name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day, according to Images of America: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. In the book, author Duane Vandenbusche states, "Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon."

    Gunnison River Tributary of the Colorado River

    The Gunnison River is located in western Colorado, and it is one of the largest tributaries of the Colorado river. The 180-mile (289-km) long river flows east to west, and it has a drainage area of 7,923 square miles (20,520 km2) according to the USGS. The drainage basin of the Gunnison River collects water from different habitats, such as forests and alpine meadows, located the along Continental Divide. As the river flows westward, it carves through the San Juan Mountains. It flows into the Colorado River at Grand Junction.

    Missouri National Recreational River

    The Missouri National Recreational River is a National Recreational River located on the border between Nebraska and South Dakota. The designation was first applied in 1978 to a 59-mile section of the Missouri River between Gavins Point Dam and Ponca State Park. In 1991, an additional 39-mile section between Fort Randall Dam and Niobrara, Nebraska, was added to the designation. These two stretches of the Missouri River are the only parts of the river between Montana and the mouth of the Missouri that remain undammed or unchannelized. The last 20 miles of the Niobrara River and 6 miles of Verdigre Creek were also added in 1991.

    Blue Mesa Reservoir

    Blue Mesa Reservoir is an artificial reservoir located on the upper reaches of the Gunnison River in Gunnison County, Colorado. The largest lake located entirely within the state, Blue Mesa Reservoir was created by the construction of Blue Mesa Dam, a 390-foot tall earthen fill dam constructed on the Gunnison by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1966 for the generation of hydroelectric power. Managed as part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest lake trout and Kokanee salmon fishery in Colorado.

    Blue Mesa Dam Dam in Cimarron, Gunnison County, Colorado, USA

    Blue Mesa Dam is a 390-foot-tall (120 m) zoned earthfill dam on the Gunnison River in Colorado. It creates Blue Mesa Reservoir, and is within Curecanti National Recreation Area just before the river enters the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The dam is upstream of the Morrow Point Dam. Blue Mesa Dam and reservoir are part of the Bureau of Reclamation's Wayne N. Aspinall Unit of the Colorado River Storage Project, which retains the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries for agricultural and municipal use in the American Southwest. The dam's primary purpose is hydroelectric power generation. State Highway 92 passes over the top of the dam. Blue Mesa Dam houses two turbine generators and produces an average of 264,329,000 kilowatt-hours each year.

    Morrow Point Dam Dam in Cimarron, Gunnison County, Colorado, USA

    Morrow Point Dam is a 468-foot-tall (143 m) concrete double-arch dam on the Gunnison River located in Colorado, the first dam of its type built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Located in the upper Black Canyon of the Gunnison, it creates Morrow Point Reservoir, and is within the National Park Service-operated Curecanti National Recreation Area. The dam is between the Blue Mesa Dam (upstream) and the Crystal Dam (downstream). Morrow Point Dam and reservoir are part of the Bureau of Reclamation's Wayne N. Aspinall Unit of the Colorado River Storage Project, which retains the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries for agricultural and municipal use in the American Southwest. The dam's primary purpose is hydroelectric power generation.

    D & RG Narrow Gauge Trestle United States historic place

    The D&RG Narrow Gauge Trestle, also known as the Cimarron Canyon trestle, is a narrow-gauge railroad deck truss bridge crossing the Cimarron River near Cimarron, Colorado. Located within the Curecanti National Recreation Area, the trestle is the last remaining railroad bridge along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's Black Canyon route, a narrow-gauge passenger and freight line that traversed the famous Black Canyon of the Gunnison between 1882 and the 1940s.

    Middle Bridge (Colorado)

    Middle Bridge is the crossing of Blue Mesa Reservoir on U.S. Route 50 (US 50) within the Curecanti National Recreation Area in southwest Gunnison County, Colorado, United States, about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) east-northeast of the community of Sapinero.

    Crystal Dam Dam in Cimarron, Gunnison County, Colorado, USA

    Crystal Dam is a 323-foot-tall (98 m), double-curvature, concrete, thin arch dam located 6 miles downstream from Morrow Point Dam on the Gunnison River in Colorado, United States. Crystal Dam is the newest of the three dams in Curecanti National Recreation Area; construction on the dam was finished in 1976. The dam impounds Crystal Reservoir. Crystal Dam and Reservoir are part of the Bureau of Reclamation's Wayne N. Aspinall Unit of the Colorado River Storage Project, which retains the waters of the Gunnison River and its tributaries for agricultural and municipal use in the American Southwest. The dam's primary purpose is hydroelectric power generation.

    Sapinero, Colorado Unincorporated community in Colorado, United States

    Sapinero is an unincorporated community located on U.S. Highway 50, along the shore of Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Curecanti National Recreation Area in Gunnison County, Colorado, United States. The U.S. Post Office at Gunnison now serves Sapinero postal addresses. The community was named after Chief Sapinero, a Ute Indian.

    U.S. Route 50 (US 50) is a part of the U.S. Highway System that travels from West Sacramento, California, to Ocean City, Maryland. In the U.S. state of Colorado, US 50 is a major highway crossing through the lower midsection of the state. It connects the Western Slope with the lower Front Range and the Arkansas Valley. The highway serves the areas of Pueblo and Grand Junction as well as many other smaller areas along its corridor. The long-term project to upgrade the highway from two lanes to a four lane expressway between Grand Junction and Montrose was completed in January 2005. Only about 25% of the remainder of highway 50 in Colorado is four lane expressway.

    Colorado River Storage Project

    The Colorado River Storage Project is a United States Bureau of Reclamation project designed to oversee the development of the upper Colorado River basin. The project provides hydroelectric power, flood control and water storage for participating states along the upper portion of the Colorado River and its major tributaries.

    Curecanti Needle

    The Curecanti Needle is a 700-ft granite spire located on the Gunnison River in western Colorado. A notable landmark to generations of natives and pioneers, the Needle is located on the southern bank of Morrow Point Reservoir, an impoundment of the Gunnison river between Gunnison and Montrose, Colorado. Used for many years as an advertising symbol for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, whose narrow-gauge railway famously ran along the northern bank of the river and passed near the Needle, the spire is today part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, a National Park Service facility that encompasses three impoundments of the Gunnison river, including Morrow Point Reservoir.

    Kannah Creek is a watershed that descends from the top of the Grand Mesa west southwest, where it meets the Gunnison River about 25 miles south of Grand Junction, Colorado. It offers many recreational opportunities, irrigation, and is an important source of drinking water for Grand Junction. The Grand Mesa is one of the largest flat topped mountains in the world and has over 300 lakes and reservoirs on top, many of which are in the Kannah Creek watershed, which help retain much of Grand Junction's drinking water throughout the year as the snowpack melts and converts into runoff. Kannah Creek is also the namesake for the locally popular Kannah Creek Brewing Company. Kannah Creek is an extremely important source of water, originating on an elevated oasis, in an otherwise very arid region.

    Morrow Point Reservoir Man-made reservoir in Colorado, United States

    Morrow Point Reservoir is an 817-acre artificial reservoir on the Gunnison River in western Colorado. Located in the upper Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the lake was created in 1968 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of a larger plan to impound the upper section of the Gunnison and create opportunities for hydroelectric power generation, water conservation, and recreation. Morrow Point Reservoir is managed by the National Park Service as a unit within the Curecanti National Recreation Area, and is the location of the Curecanti Needle, a striking 700 ft. granite spire on the reservoir's southern bank whose unique shape was for decades a recognized symbol of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.

    Crystal Reservoir

    Crystal Reservoir is a 340-acre artificial reservoir on the Gunnison River in western Colorado. Located in the upper Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the lake was created in 1976 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of a larger plan to impound the upper section of the Gunnison for the generation of hydroelectric power, water storage, and public recreation. Crystal Reservoir is managed by the National Park Service as an element of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Located at the far western end of Curecanti, Crystal Reservoir is the smallest, least developed, and least accessible of the three reservoirs within the park.

    Blue Creek Canyon

    Blue Creek Canyon is a narrow, steep-walled canyon in Gunnison County, Colorado. It lies between Fitzpatrick Mesa and Blue Mesa and is south of Morrow Point Reservoir and southeast of Cimarron, Colorado. U.S. Highway 50 goes through the canyon. Gunnison County Road 867 intersects with Highway 50 near the middle of the canyon.

    Blue Creek (Gunnison River tributary)

    Blue Creek is a tributary of the Gunnison River in Gunnison County, Colorado. It forms at the confluence of Little Blue Creek and Big Blue Creek adjacent to the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and Alpine Plateau Road in Blue Creek Canyon.

    Blue Mesa Summit Mountain pass in Colorado, US

    Blue Mesa Summit is a mountain pass in Gunnison County of west-central Colorado. The pass is traversed by U.S. Route 50 and divides the watersheds of Little Cimarron River to the west and Blue Creek to the east.

    References

    1. "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011" (PDF). Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
    2. "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
    3. Benson, Maxine (1994). 1001 Colorado Place Names. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN   0-7006-0632-7.
    4. https://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/
    5. https://www.nps.gov/cure/learn/historyculture/aspinall_unit.htm
    6. https://www.nps.gov/cure/planyourvisit/camping.htm
    7. https://www.nps.gov/cure/planyourvisit/boatincamping.htm
    8. 1 2 3 4 5 https://www.nps.gov/cure/planyourvisit/hiking.htm
    9. https://www.nps.gov/cure/planyourvisit/boating.htm
    10. https://www.nps.gov/cure/planyourvisit/camp_cimarron.htm