Gold Star Canyon close to home, full of multi-colored rock

031311 haggerty hikes
031311 Haggerty Hike map
QUICKREAD

Gold Star Canyon

Drive time and distance: 16 minutes, 8.2 miles

Length: 2.5 to 9 miles, depending on your quest for discovery

Hiking Time: 20-30 minute climb to the first bench, then a few hours-plus

Difficulty: First climb is exhilarating, the rest of it is easy



Gas prices continue to rise as tensions in the Middle East and Northern Africa disrupt oil supplies and as commodity traders scam the holy crude out of us.

Time for a local hike, so we can save a little gas and pay for the slight rise in fees for entering Colorado National Monument.

Lost in the noise of whether the “Monument” should be renamed a “Park” is the fact that fees are rising this coming May.

But not if you sneak through the fence.

You see, the trail head to Gold Star Canyon is really only a gap in the old Buffalo Fence along the National Monument boundary adjacent to South Broadway.

As the most under-publicized canyon in the National Monument, the trail head into Gold Star Canyon doesn’t have a sturdy vault toilet, large parking area or fancy interpretive displays depicting flora, fauna, history and geology.

Nope. It’s just a gap in the fence. And the parking area is a very small dirt pull-out along the road.

The trail head is .15 miles southeast of Star Canyon Drive, which is about .75 miles 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 .15 miles southeast of Star Canyon Drive, so if you go too far, turn around and go back .15 miles.

You could also take Grand Avenue west over the Colorado River and stay on it until you reach South Broadway, just past F 1/2 Road on the Redlands. Then, turn left and travel .75 miles to the trail head.

There are numerous “social” trails meandering 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 that Precambrian bench.

Once you reach that point, watch closely for a Y in the trail. If you travel forward on the left branch, you’ll continue into Gold Star Canyon. If you take the right fork, you’ll be on the Bench Trail and reach Monument Canyon in about a mile and a half.

Morning is a spectacular time of day to be in this canyon, especially at this time of year when the long shadows of a bright morning sun streak past you as you climb through multi-colored layers of rock, the oldest of which date back 1.5 billion years.

“Each layer,” according to the U.S. 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.”

Here, as the sun rises and turns the sandstone a brilliant orange, it seems as if the giants scrubbed these canyon walls with charcoal. When I stop breathing so heavily from the climb and re-focus through my bifocaled polarized sunglasses, I realize it’s really the iron and manganese oxide that has darkened the sandstone over millions and millions of years.

Back to the present, though, on May 2, the monument will raise entrance fees by $3, to $10 per car. The pedestrian and cyclist entrance fee will be $5, a $1 increase.

The U.S. Park Service says it’s the first fee increase in six years at the monument. The annual park pass, which provides unlimited entry for one year, will go up from $20 to $25. Limited supplies of the $20 annual passes have already been printed, so those will sell at the old rate until they sell out, even if bought after May 2.

Monument officials say revenue from entrance fees is used to replace exhibits and update infrastructure.

The monument will offer 16 fee-free days this year. The next ones will come the week of April 16.

But if you sneak through the fence, it’s free.

Editor’s note: Haggerty is exaggerating. You don’t have to sneak. This trail head is open to the public, although dogs are not allowed!

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Email Bill Haggerty at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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