Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area

2009 Visitors: 90,000.

A view of Gunnison Gorge     Photo: Photograph by Richard Durnan/BLM

Stop the Bleeding

One reason we have so many state and national parks (6,548 and 392, respectively): During the Depression, F.D.R. created an extraordinary public-works program, the Civilian Conservation Corps. In its decade-long existence, the CCC gave some two million young men good pay and abundant food as they built and improved, among other things, our parks. And so it's with more than a twinge of bitterness that we note some legislators' ambivalence toward our playgrounds during these recession-challenged times. While the Department of the Interior has done a solid job in funneling much-needed cash to the national parks over the past two years, state legislators have responded to lean budgets by gutting funds. In January, for example, Arizona closed 13 of its 22 state parks. At press time, state legislators were considering similar actions in New York; parks in Virginia, California, and Idaho narrowly missed the same fate. Get updates at americasstateparks.com. Or, better yet, drop your congressman a note. A loud one.

Main Drag: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
2009 Visitors: 2,822,325
There's no need to name names. But last July, when a group of Outside editors floated the Gunnison River, we brought a guest—let's call him Slash—who plays guitar in a prominent folk-rock band. We'd hoped he might entertain us at one of Gunnison Gorge's 23 sandy campsites ($15 per person for two nights; 970-240-5300), but from the moment we launched at the Chukar trail put-in—just west of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park—Slash showed more interest in beer than in music, rafting, or fishing. One day, while casting like a NASCAR flag waver, he shattered a gorgeous (and borrowed) fly rod on one of the Gunny's slick walls. But even Slash caught fish, and so will you. The 14-mile-long gorge, which starts just below the Black Canyon, is a perfect combination of fun Class III rapids and big, wild trout. Plus you'll be alone: Black Canyon is a national park in name only, and the gorge is no more populated. You'll need a horse to get your raft to the put-in ($90 per animal; call Larry Franks at 970-323-0115). Last year we caught the tail end of the salmonfly hatch; this year, we're going at the peak. Without Slash. BEST CAMPSITE: Caddis camp, a wide-open spot eight miles downriver from Chukar. BEST LODGE: Black Canyon Anglers fishing lodge (two-person cabins from $170; blackcanyonanglers.com).

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