Monsoon turns Ute Canyon into perfect place to play nice
The word of the day is Mud. Spread the mud.
You have no choice if you’re hiking around Western Colorado and Eastern Utah these days.
We used to call August the Dog Days of Summer here in the desert. This month seems more like the monsoon.
Record thundershowers in the valley have swollen local intermittent creeks like the one flowing through No Thoroughfare Canyon to the point of becoming navigable waters.
For the first time in ages, I saw no vehicles in the Lunch Loop/Tabeguache Trail head lot on Monument Road the other afternoon after a recent thunderstorm.
So, if you’re out hiking, you’re in the mud.
If you go high and hit Grand Mesa, it’s wise to wear waders, since the trails are muddy and the foliage along many trails is thigh-high and sopping wet.
Down in the valley, the weeds aren’t quite that high, but mud on the trails is pretty thick. If you stick to the Colorado Riverfront Trail, you can hike or ride your bicycle on the paved surface. Even on pavement, however, a few piles of mud washed over the trail and that can flip a bicyclist in a second.
I opted for a hike through Ute Canyon in the Colorado National Monument the other day. Beautiful and cool, I thought as I slipped down one embankment. I tried my best not to mess up the trail, and that’s a major issue during this monsoonal season. Be careful and don’t hurt yourself slipping in the mud. Be careful of the trails, too, since they’re not used to this much moisture.
Remember that repairs to our desert environment can take decades.
Ute was in pretty darn good shape, though. I usually save this hike for fall, winter and spring, since it can get extremely hot here during most summers, and the gnats can drive you up a Red Cliff wall.
These recent rainstorms, however, have also delivered cool weather along with the moisture, and the gnats don’t seem to like it at all.
Bummer for them.
Since Ute Canyon is one of four main canyons within the Colorado National Monument, I’ve had the opportunity to write about it a few other times. As noted previously, it’s not the longest canyon in the Monument, nor does it contain the most spectacular rock formations, like Independence Monument, Kissing Couple or the Coke Ovens. Those distinctions belong to Monument Canyon, north of Ute Canyon.
Ute, however, is long and deep and displays spectacular vertical cliff walls of banded, colored strata.
The one distinct rock formation within Ute Canyon is the Fallen Rock, a huge slab from the cliff wall that has slumped sideways while remaining upright.
Ute Canyon rises in elevation from 4,800 feet on the Redlands, to 6,400 feet at Rimrock Drive along the top of the National Monument. Most of that elevation gain occurs in the first mile, then again in the last half-mile, which is a healthy climb up a talus slope to the roadway on Rimrock Drive.
To reach the Ute Canyon/Liberty Cap/Corkscrew Trail head, now dubbed the Wildwood Trail head on the Redlands, take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River where it turns into Broadway (Highway 340). Stay on 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). Continue to Wildwood Drive. Turn left, then veer to the right past the private residences. Please respect their privacy and drive slowly.
This is a quaint little neighborhood, and these residents have had numerous “issues” in recent years with people blocking private driveways, allowing pets to run freely and deflower their gardens, leaving trash, racing up and down that road in their vehicles… you get the picture. Play nice.
You’ll soon spy a National Park Service trail head sign on your right. Park in the gravel lot.
The first 1.2 miles of trail is well used and well marked with new Park Service signs. The trail joins Corkscrew and Liberty Cap trails for the first mile as it climbs behind and above a large slap of uplifted sandstone.
Within a mile, another marker directs hikers to the right (north) and up Liberty Cap Trail. To the left, hikers can access both Ute Canyon and the Corkscrew Trail. Within two-tenths of a mile, the Corkscrew Trail cuts sharply to the left and down, returning to the Wildwood Trail head. The 3.3 mile-long Corkscrew Trail is the newest loop trail within the Colorado National Monument’s boundary.
The Ute Canyon trail continues on and is listed as a backcountry trail in all the brochures. The route follows the stream bed most of the way.
Wear proper foot gear, and be prepared to spread the word when you get home.