Get muddy, rediscover Gold Star Canyon
The hike into Gold Star Canyon is a bit tricky right now because of melting snow. Of course, the first half-mile up and into this amphitheater-type canyon is tricky anyway, and not for those who like flat, level ground for hiking.
This trail climbs, twists and winds its way 500 feet up in elevation within a half mile. A sturdy pair of boots and a hiking stick are in order here.
Once you top that first bench, though, it’s a piece of cake. Muddy chocolate cake, but a piece of cake nonetheless.
The trail head to Gold Star Canyon is really only a gap in the old Buffalo Fence along the Colorado National Monument boundary adjacent to South Broadway. It’s called the White Rocks area because there is a very large mound of white rocks nearby.
As the most under-publicized canyon in Colorado National Monument, this trail head doesn’t have a sturdy vault toilet, large parking area or fancy interpretive displays. There is a somewhat new display board with rules, regulations and a trail map. Other than that, it’s just a gap in the fence adjacent to a tiny dirt pullout.
The trail head is 0.15 miles southeast of Star Canyon Drive, which is about three-fourths of a mile from the intersection of Broadway (Colorado Highway 340) and South Broadway.
There are a couple of ways to get here. The scenic route takes you west on Grand Avenue over the Colorado River, where Grand turns into Broadway and Colorado 340. Stay on that until you get to the Redlands Parkway and turn left. Follow the signs toward Tiara Rado Golf Course. You’ll be on South Broadway. Stay on that past the golf course (the road turns into 20.5 Road here) and turn left on South Broadway again.
Stay on South Broadway for another 1.3 miles, and the gap in the fence will be on your left. The trail head is 0.15 miles southeast of Star Canyon Drive, so if you go too far, turn around and go back 0.15 miles.
Numerous “social” trails meander from this trail head, but there’s one obvious main trail leading directly up and into the gap in the canyon. That first stretch climbs quickly from 4,809 feet in elevation at the parking area to about 5,330 feet on top of the Precambrian bench.
Once on the bench, watch for a cairn in an old tree stump that marks a split in the trail. If you travel forward on the left branch, you’ll continue into Gold Star Canyon and eventually onto the old, yet newly restored Bench Trail heading toward Liberty Cap. If you take the right fork, you’ll be on the Bench Trail and reach Monument Canyon in about a mile and a half.
Along with numerous trail improvements the Monument staff has made in the past few years, the Bench Trail has been rediscovered. Apparently, good old John Otto blazed that trail, but it had become overgrown and under-utilized over the past century.
The Monument Trails crew reblazed the trail, and while it’s still considered “unimproved” as the display at the trail head says, it’s an easy trail to hike, though some path-finding skills may be required.
Right now, it’s a muddy mess once you get around the wide amphitheater of Gold Star Canyon and start heading toward Liberty Cap.
Yet, just hiking this far and back, you’ll get a healthy 2.5-mile hike with plenty of rugged up and down.
Morning is a spectacular time to be in this canyon, especially now, when the long shadows of a winter sun streak past as you climb through multi-colored layers of rock, the oldest of which date back 1.5 billion years. It’s less muddy in the morning, too.
“Each layer,” according to the National Park Service, “from the dark twisted Precambrian rock of the canyon floors, to the erosion-resistant Kayenta caprock that preserves the canyon rims and the monoliths — formed during different periods of geologic time. Millions of years of alternating wet and arid climates, shallow seas, the presence of dinosaurs, and sand dunes created a turbulent setting for the formation of these rock layers. Erosion, freezing, pressure, and heat determined the rocks’ color and resilience.”
As the sun rises and turns the sandstone a brilliant orange, it seems as if the giants scrubbed these canyon walls with charcoal. It’s really the iron and manganese oxide that has darkened the sandstone over millions of years.