Ice parks are popular winter destinations and there are plenty to choose from in the Colorado Rockies. Some of the local ice parks in the Rocky Mountains have an entertaining theme, like ones that feature a gigantic ice castle or illuminated works of ice art. Others feature the majestic beauty of natural ice in a dramatic setting. Some ice parks are devoted to ice climbing and these destinations appeal to both winter sports enthusiasts and spectators alike.
The Ouray Ice Park is a famous ice climbing site that is renowned for its beautiful looking tapestries of cascading ice in a narrow gorge. The Ouray Ice Park setting lies within the narrow walls of a deep gorge that has a stream flowing through. This stream looks like whitewater rapids during the spring season snow melt, but after the dry summer and fall seasons the water levels decrease to a placid state. By winter, pretty much everything is frozen over in this high elevation and this is when the ice making begins at Box Canyon Falls.
The Ouray Ice Park is in a narrow gorge that happens to be in the Red Mountain Pass section of the Million Dollar Highway. Where there is room for a highway, there is usually room that is allotted for power lines, water lines or even a railway. In this case, a big water line runs downhill over the crest of the Box Canyon Falls Gorge, so water is readily available for creating a man made ice park in a beautiful setting!
On one side of the Box Canyon Falls Gorge there is the big water line with faucet taps mounted on top. When the taps are opened during freezing cold winter weather, huge cascading tapestries of ice form over the steep vertical walls of the gorge. For the first part of the winter season, the ice is created for visual appeal and it is not really thick enough for ice climbing. This is when the cascading icicle formations look almost natural in this narrow gorge. Later in mid winter before the organized ice climbing events begin, the ice is thickened up, so it becomes more stable. When the cascading ice starts to look like an impenetrable massive wall, that is the time to break out the ice climbing gear!
Since the ice is primarily made only on one side of the gorge, the spectator areas are located on the opposite side of the canyon. The slope of the crest line on this gorge is steep as it goes downhill to Ouray, so there are many good vantage points along the rim. There are several steel observation decks located at different elevations along the rim of the gorge, which offer stable platforms for watching the ice climbers do their thing.
The photos for this article were gathered during both the fall and winter seasons seasons. It is easy to see the observation decks and the irrigation system in the autumn season photos. The photos that feature an ice covered Box Canyon Falls Gorge were snapped during the second week of January, so it is easy to see what a difference the cold winter temperatures make. The Ouray Ice Park in all of its frozen glory is very photogenic at this time of year and as can be seen in a few photos, the ice climbers are in action!
Finding a parking spot near the Ouray Ice Park can be challenging, so doing some extra footwork may be involved, but that is a minor inconvenience. Wearing crampons is suggested, because the slopes are steep in this area and the paths can be icy. Other than these items of forewarning, all that a visitor has to do is pack a thermos full of hot cocoa and dress warm. Packing some binoculars or a telephoto camera is a good idea too.
Winter destinations only happen one time of year in Colorado, so it does not pay to hesitate after old man winter arrives! No matter whether you just like to look at beautiful ice formations or you are an avid ice climber, the Ouray Ice Park belongs on the top of the list for travelers on the Million Dollar Highway!
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