OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes May 10, 2009

Blooming hike

6:30 a.m. Wednesday. I hustled Junior out the door on his way to school on a drop-dead gorgeous western Colorado morning. It would be a great day for a hike­ — except I have to work at 9 a.m.

But there’s one excellent hike I can take in that short timeframe — on the Corkscrew Trail.

It’s close to home, it’s only 3.2 miles long, and the desert flowers are just starting to bloom in Colorado National Monument.

Corkscrew Trail dates to 1909 and John Otto, the first full-time caretaker of the national monument. It was one of the first trails constructed in the area and provided the only official route through Ute Canyon.

Over time, however, the original access to Corkscrew Trail was lost because of encroaching development. Eventually, the main route leading into Ute Canyon became the Liberty Cap Trail. Once you climbed one mile up the first little stretch from the valley floor, you could jump off the Liberty Cap Trail and head over to Ute Canyon, or you could continue up to Liberty Cap itself.

But then, you missed the “corkscrew,” a tight set of switchbacks carved out of rock by good ol’ John Otto himself.

In 2005, portions of Corkscrew Trail were rehabilitated by the Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. Prior to that, few people used the trail because there was no formal access leading to it. People who did use it cut across the terrain instead of following natural contours. These “social” trails increased erosion, increased maintenance costs and decreased the aesthetic values of this area.

So, the Park Service embarked on a plan to build one good access trail that would connect Ute, Liberty Cap and Corkscrew trails, and create a loop trail on Corkscrew from the parking lot at Wildwood.

That was earlier this decade. Recently, park service employees and volunteers have spruced up the trail and made it even more user-friendly and less erosive.

To reach the Wildwood 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 because it turns into South Broadway). Travel past South Camp Road and continue on South Broadway just past Riggs Hill until you come to Wildwood Drive. Turn left, then veer to the right past the private residences. Please respect their privacy and drive slowly. You’ll soon spy the Wildwood Trailhead sign on your right. Turn here and park in the gravel lot.

Take the main trail across the desert leading toward Liberty Cap. In short order, you’ll pass a sign pointing toward the left, or southeast, and Corkscrew Trail. You can go either way to hike the Corkscrew Loop. If you continue forward, follow the Liberty Cap Trail up a slightly more gentle set of switchbacks until you reach a trail junction sign at one mile.

Turn left and hike 0.2 miles to the Corkscrew Trail sign and take another left. The upper reach provides a series of switchbacks leading back down the hill — all well-engineered nearly 100 years ago. Once down, numerous social trails used to meander across the desert, around large prickly pear patches and through valuable, yet highly erosive cryptobiotic soils.

That was the issue. Too many social trails in highly erosive areas. The new Corkscrew Trail takes care of that. Now the trail is well marked and well maintained. The Park Service has done a great job of taking care of the trail and signs to ensure you’d have to try real hard to get lost here.

Follow the Corkscrew Connector Trail signs back to the trailhead and along the way, check out the desert flowers. I took dozens of photos Wednesday and the only problem is — I don’t know what the heck I was taking photos of. Pretty yellow flowers. Dainty white flowers. Cute little purple flowers.

OK, so I know a few of them — orange mallow, white alyssum, burnt red Indian paintbrush, white cutleaf daisies. Those other ones? I’ve just got to hike with one of those plant specialists at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.

• Next Saturday at noon, I’ll be at REI on Seventh Street and North Avenue, talking about local hikes and supporting an REI-sponsored youth outdoor program called “Passport to Adventure.” It’s free, and it’s available to kids who want to explore the great outdoors. Each kid gets a “Passport” and an opportunity to win free stuff.
Also, if you don’t already have your very own copy, I’ll be autographing “Haggerty’s Hikes in a Bottle,” a collection of 52 hiking columns handily contained in a stylish water bottle. For a $20 donation to the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, this can be yours for free.


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