The road at Cimarron in Curecanti National Recreation Area leads to the Morrow Point Dam Overlook, and travels through some fine examples of gneiss, the predominant rock in the Black Canyon. Gneiss (pronounced "nice') has bands, layers, or even lenses of blocky crystals such as feldspar, alternated with bands of a flat, plate-like mineral such as mica.
Gneiss represents some of the most advanced stages of metamorphosis with some of the most intense temperatures and pressures. In fact, in some places, the rock has actually been partially melted, and the melt was injected, or squeezed into the layers of the remaining solid portions of the gneiss, creating a type of gneiss known as migmatite.
The gneiss has been so highly transformed, meaning that the temperatures and pressures were so extreme, that there is little evidence of what the original sedimentary layers of rock were. The large amount of mica, with a silica content of nearly 85%, suggests that the original rock (protolith) was an impure sandstone or chert.
Rare minerals such as garnets, staurolite, or sillimanite can be abundant locally. The presence of such minerals acts as a marker for exactly how much pressure and temperature the original rocks were exposed to during metamorphism.
Did You Know?
The Black Canyon stretches far beyond the 14 miles within the national park. Including the canyon within Curecanti National Recreation Area and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, the total length is 53 miles.