Recent snow, cold make monument perfect place to cross-country ski
Drive time and distance: 27 minutes; 16.2 miles. That’s the best reason I can think of to cross-country ski on Colorado National Monument right now.
This trip cuts the drive-time in half from what we’re used to in traveling to Grand Mesa.
Skiing across the top of Liberty Cap Trail off Rim Rock Drive in the monument is a sweet glide, especially after the road opens after a winter snowstorm.
Most ardent hikers in this area know how to access Liberty Cap Trail from the bottom. That trail head is located off South Broadway and Wildwood. The top of that trail is seven miles away, however, and you can’t get there from here — on skis.
You can, however, access that top trail head off Rim Rock Drive, and you can ski about 2.25 miles to the top of two switchbacks overlooking Otto’s Bathtub, a historic spot on the monument.
To reach the top trail head, take Monument Road to the east entrance of Colorado National Monument where it becomes Rimrock Drive. Stay on that for another 11.8 miles.
You’ll come to the Black Ridge Hunter Access Road on your left (west). A couple hundred yards farther 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 seven miles past the visitor center to the trail head parking on your left, just prior to reaching the Black Ridge Hunter Access Road.
Be careful. This parking area is very small. If there’s no room, drive to that Black Ridge Hunter Access Road and find a safe place to park, then ski back to the Liberty Cap trail head.
Last week’s tragic accident at the County Line Cross-Country Ski Area on Grand Mesa, where two wonderful people, Glen and Linda Eyre, were run over and killed at the icy pull-off along Colorado Highway 65, reminds us all to be uber-careful with our winter driving.
Glen was a former district wildlife manager in Pagosa Springs. He and Linda were wonderful people and will be sorely missed.
Colorado National Monument spokeswoman Michelle Wheatley reminds motorists to use extra caution while traveling across Rim Rock Drive. Be prepared to encounter icy conditions, especially around its many shaded curves.
During winter snowstorms, Colorado National Monument may temporarily close to all traffic the upper section of Rim Rock Drive from DS Road to Independence Monument Overlook. Those temporary closures, according to Wheatley, make clearing routes safer for plow drivers and visitors.
Closures may be a few hours to a few days, depending on the storm. Once the storm has subsided. Upper Rim Rock Drive will be plowed, sanded, and cleared within 24 hours.
The upper section of Rim Rock Drive will be closed with three traffic gates, located west of DS Road, at 16 1/2 Road (that Black Ridge Hunter Access Road), and at Independence Monument Overlook. Glade Park commuters who normally access Rim Rock Drive are encouraged to use DS Road on east Rim Rock Drive during active storms.
Pedestrians and bicycles will not be permitted on the upper section of Rim Rock Drive during active storms and when gates are closed. The gates will be reopened as soon as the upper section of Rim Rock Drive has been cleared.
Colorado National Monument will continue to maintain the east hill of Rim Rock Drive by contracting with Mesa County for plowing and sanding. This provides Glade Park residents with a clear road from the east gate of Colorado National Monument to DS Road during winter.
Road conditions aside, while one of the best reasons to ski here is because it’s close to town, there are other major benefits: This trail is drop-dead gorgeous in the snow; and, it’s located at an elevation of 6,479 feet, lower than Grand Mesa yet above the nasty inversion that’s enveloped the Grand Valley, down here at 4,930 feet in elevation. You can breathe up there.
We’re not lucky enough to ski here every year. Some years the snow melts after a day or so. This year, because of our Christmas Eve storm that never left, and the accompanying low temperatures, along with our most recent storm, the Liberty Cap track is set, and it isn’t going anywhere for a while.
This trail is also used by hikers and snowshoers. Naturally, the Park Service asks hikers and snowshoers not to hike in the ski tracks, but everyone is quite courteous along this trail.
Let’s be as courteous on our icy roadways this winter, and say a little prayer for Glen and Linda Eyre’s family.