The Cimarron National Recreation Area is made up of a series of 3 reservoirs, Blue Mesa, Crystal, and Morrow Point. These reservoirs are all located along the Gunnison River. The Curecanti National Recreation Area/Cimarron is located off US-50 approx 47 miles east of the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park. This is the one we will focus on today.
No Way To Build A Railroad
In 1853, John Gunnison and his group of explorers had an extremely difficult time navigating the Gunnison River. They made their way east until reaching Blue Mesa and then started heading west finding valuable minerals along the way. After crossing Cimarron Creek and climbing over Cerro Summit, Gunnison decided that trying to put in a railroad through this area would be impossible.
With finding the valuable minerals and the idea of a railroad being built shot down, another way to move about the area was needed and roads started being built. Parts of the roadway ran near a cattle ranch and over time raising cattle and eventually sheep became popular in the area. This time frame was around the 1970’s.
Enter The D&RG
In the early 1880s, the Denver And Rio Grand Railroad owned by General William Jackson Palmer was covering more area as it started making it’s way west across Colorado. General Palmer decided he was going to take on the challenge of building railroad tracks through an area that was previously thought impossible by Gunnison and his explorers.
As construction was completed around 1882 and the trains started moving, they realized they faced one more big challenge. The hill at Cerro Summit was steep and the trains would need “helper” engines to get over it. Cimarron was starting to become known as a railroad town.
Although the original purpose of this railroad was to move the valuable minerals that were located along the banks of the river, it also started providing scenic tours in the latter part of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Over time mining started slowing down and cattle ranching was starting to increase. Cimarron became a major cattle and sheep shipping hub. Cimarron had corrals (cattle gathering points) that covered over 7500 square feet.
No Feeding Facilities
Since there were no feeding facilities at these corrals, people would time their drives to get to the loading centers shortly before the trains would be pulling out. This way they would be loaded onto the trains almost immediately. Over time the roadways improved drastically and trucks to move cattle became larger, and the need for the train was dwindling.
In 1949 the last scenic train ride was given. It ran from Gunnison to Cimarron. Shortly after that, the dismantling of the railroad, corrals, and railroad ties began.
The Morrow Dam
When we visited the Cimarron Rec center, the visitor center was closed. We were able to take a ride through the campground and continue to the parking lot down near the Morrow dam.
About halfway between the visitor center and the parking lot is an awesome display of the old locomotive, Engine 278, it’s coal tender, a boxcar, and caboose that sits atop a section of tacks above the Gunnison River. We were lucky enough to have visited after it had just been restored.
The Parking Lot
Continuing to the end of the road will bring you to the parking lot. From here you will notice a few things. First off directly past the end of the parking lot is the restroom building which houses 2 pit toilets.
If you look down further you will see the Morrow Dam which stands 468 feet high and is constructed as a concrete double arch dam. It sits between the Blue Mesa Dam and the Crystal Dam. The dam is used to supply hydro-electric power.
Beyond that is a display area that features signs explaining the dam, geology, and general history of Morrow Lake and the dam. Anything you would possibly want to know about the structure and history can be found by reading the signs.
If you look to the side of the parking lot that faces the water, you will see an overlook area that features 2 covered picnic tables. This is a great place to take a break and either enjoy your lunch or a quick snack. One thing we should mention is that we were here at two separate times. We used the tables both times for snacking and enjoying the incredible views.
The first time which was towards the beginning of the summer there were no problems. The second time was towards the end of the summer and for whatever reason there were a lot of yellow jacket bees. If you are coming towards the end of the summer you may want to bring bee spray.
The Water’s Edge
Once your snack is completed there are some hiking trails along the river you can check out. You will need to hike down a moderate hillside. There is an actual path to walk down so it is not terrible. Once down the hillside, you are now at the water’s edge. There is an awesome view of the Morrow Dam.
You can follow along the trails as far as you like. We just went down to a bridge, crossed over the river, and went about another mile down the trail before turning back. The scenery was just incredible. Just remember not to tire yourself out too much as you will have to get back up the hill to return to the parking lot area…lol.
The Curecanti Rec area was a great little find. The scenery was beautiful and the displays of the area history were cool. The picnic tables and hiking along the Gunnison River have added bonuses. If you are looking for a quick place to stop and see some area history, have a snack, and rest this is a great little stop. You could either make this a quick stop or spend an afternoon here. Should we ever find ourselves back in the area, this will be a definite stop.
Date Of Visit: Spring & Summer 2019
Cost To Enter: $0
Pet Friendly: Yes