OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes April 12, 2009
SUCCUMB TO NATURE’S FORCES AT LIBERTY CAP
Liberty Cap is a 160 million-year-old remnant sand dune that is slowly succumbing to the forces of erosion. Just like me. I hiked to the Cap from the Wildwood Trailhead on the Redlands in Grand Junction, and made it in about 55 minutes the other day, so I guess I’m not eroding too badly. Nonetheless, I’m out of shape.
Liberty Cap Trail scales the face of the Colorado National Monument here on the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau. It begins at a small gravel parking lot on the Redlands in Grand Junction — the Wildwood Trailhead — and travels to a small gravel parking lot a few miles from the Visitor’s Center on top of the monument along Rimrock Drive.
Total distance of the trail, from top to bottom, is seven miles. In between stands that 160 million-year-old cap and now is a great time to visit for three reasons: 1) There’s still snow on the Grand Mesa; 2) with these recent weather fronts, there’s a lot of blowing sand in the southeast Utah canyon country; 3) this is a great trail and it’s in our backyard.
While the Liberty Cap Trail is roughly seven miles long from one end to the other, many locals climb up and down the 1.5-mile stretch from the Redlands to Liberty Cap quite often.
The lower trail meanders across a sparsely vegetated knoll for a short distance, leading to the base of a dark Precambrian rock escarpment. The trail climbs between that dark
Precambrian and an enormous Kayenta sandstone rock tipped on its side. It took some force to slide that baby into place.
The trail is steep and slick in spots, so a walking stick may be useful. Good footwear is essential. Do not forget your water. (P.S. Dogs are not allowed on the trails within the National Monument.)
After a mile-long ascent, the well-marked trail splits. Ute Canyon Trail curves to the southwest. Corkscrew Trail follows that path for a short distance before winding back down the monument to the Wildwood Trailhead.
Liberty Cap Trail continues to the right and northwest. A good chunk of elevation gain comes in this next half-mile, yet an aerobic climb to the cap with its numerous switchbacks provides a constantly changing view of the valley below — and plenty of rest spots.
On top are spectacular views of the valley and of Ute Canyon, looking deep into the gorge of the National Monument. Those so inclined can scramble to the very pinnacle of the rounded knob of Wingate Sandstone – good ’ol Liberty Cap itself.
Evening hikes here bring spectacular color changes to the Bookcliffs in the distance. Early morning hikes bring stunning sunrises over the Grand Mesa. Because of the moderate temperatures recently, this is a fine time of year to hike during the day, which is all but suicidal in the heat of summer.
To reach the trailhead on the Redlands, take Broadway (Colorado Highway 340) to the Redlands Parkway and turn left on South Broadway (or take the Redlands Parkway and stay on it since it turns into South Broadway). Stay on that until you come to Wildwood Drive.
Turn left, then veer to the right past a couple private residences. Please respect their privacy and drive slowly. If there are too many cars in the parking area, please remember, those neighbors are beginning to hate me for pushing too much traffic to this area. Take a scenic drive to the upper trailhead if it’s too crowded.
The upper reach of this trail meanders across gently sloping Monument Mesa through pinyon-juniper forest and sagebrush flats for 5.5 miles. This section is utilized by horseback riders and hikers. When the moon is full, as it was a few nights ago, this upper trail provides a wonderful moonlight hike. During full moons in January or February on years when the snow sticks, this is a fabulous ski.
To reach the top trailhead, take Monument Road to the east entrance of the monument Yes, the bridge is still out over the Redlands Canal, but follow the detour signs along D Road, Rosevale Road and Redlands Road back to Monument Road. Then, travel to the east entrance to the Monument.
Stop and pay your fees and continue along Rimrock Drive for about 12 miles. Watch for Bighorn Sheep.
You’ll come to the Black Ridge Hunter Access Road to the left (west). A few hundred yards further and to the right, you’ll see the Liberty Cap Trail parking area. If you’re traveling from the Fruita side, or west entrance to the monument, drive about seven miles past the visitor center until you come to this well-marked parking area.
Then, take a hike.