By Carolyn Dean
Nestled away in the Western Slope of Colorado lays a natural hidden treasure. The Colorado National Monument pioneered by John Otto in the early 20th century proves to be an adventurer’s goldmine. Thousands of years of erosion have created this area into skyscraping sentinels and sandstone canyons that stretch south into the Ute Plateau and west into the deserts of Utah. This natural red rock beauty was believed to be inaccessible to humans until John Otto first began building roads and trails so people would be able to have access to the Monument. The magnitude of the area is now accessible with over 10 maintained hikes that range from easy 1-mile hikes to difficult 14-mile trails. While they are all distinctive in their own right, there are a few that are more breathtaking and worthwhile than others.
Liberty Cap- The Best View
Liberty cap is on the more challenging end of the hikes throughout the National Monument but its view at the top proves to any hiker that it is well worth the sweat. The trail starts out winding through a desert savanna that gradually increases into an enclosed sandstone section. After working your way behind this wall, the trail steeply ascends into a loose gravel section that requires some skillful foot maneuvering and a little bit of hand scrambling. Once above this section, the trail offers a couple of diversion options. The most recommended is the trail to the top of the cap. This cap marks the summit of the monument’s ridgeline. Once upon this new section, the trail turns into a series of switchbacks and turns for another half a mile upward. Once on the top of the plateau the view to the north of the Grand Valley will be already breathtaking as you continue to hike eastward toward the cap. The cap, a 160 million year old rock of sandstone will become clearly visible with two options to ascend it. Going around the front will require you to spider man across a small-enclosed crevasse, or the backside, which will entail you to hop scotch a couple of sandstone boulders. Once around the eastern side of the cap there will be a 15-foot climb upon bolted iron rods. Bring your windbreaker for the summit which will usually be windy as you take in the awe-inspiring view of the Grand Valley below and the juniper-lands of Ute Canyon desert to the south.
Monument Trail- Independence Monument
Lower monument canyon is a spectacular hike that starts off winding its way through a prairie desert. Known for one of the best areas for viewing bighorn sheep this hike also does not required a monument pass since the trail head is off a public road. About .5 of a mile from the trail head the path takes a swift left along a fence line that boarders a new housing complex. This section of the trail is a nice wide path that is cushioned with sand that may appeal to many runners. The trail will then take another right steering away from the fence line and will escalate as you enter Monument Canyon. This type of sandstone is known as Wingate sandstone that holds a deep shades of red and creates sharp walls tower hundreds of feet high. Keep your eyes peeled on the walls, many times you will get to see climbers jamming as they ascend cracklines along the canyons walls. There are a couple of series of switchbacks that you will then endure as you trek deeper into the canyon. The path follows along the right side of the canyon wall and enters two hollow gullies that make the rest of the trail hidden from the hiker. The next mile will be a little more challenging as the trail turns into steps and switchbacks of packed gravel and sand as it traversing through these two gorges. Once in the second gorge the hiker will be able to see the famous Kissing Couple sentinel that it reminiscent of two people embracing. Right as you turn out of the second gorge, the monolith that is Independence Monument will appear. The trail leads up and around the Monument and loops back to the same trail.
No Thoroughfare- Waterfalls
No Thoroughfare Canyon is known for not only one but two amazing waterfalls that turn from ice falls into water over the summer season.
The trailhead starts out from the lower trailhead of Devils Kitchen at the entrance of the Colorado National Monument. The trail starts out on a downward slope that then takes a sharp left onto the No Thoroughfare Canyon trail. Once upon this trail the path is wide and sand packed as you traversed into the dried up river bed that has become No Thoroughfare Canyon. The trail winds and curves along with the riverbed that may or may not have water in it depending on the time of year. Be prepared to jump over the river a couple of times as the trail traverses from both sides of the riverbed. About a mile or 2 into the hike you will come upon your first waterfall. Recently I found this waterfall to still be in ice formation and was able to watch periodically as the ice melted and fell, it was spectacular. Here you will either have a choice of turning back or continuing on to the second waterfall which is just as spectacular as the first but requires climbing a steep pitch to get back into the canyon. It is about another mile from the first waterfall to the second and many people turn around here since the trail is no longer maintained and continues for another 8 miles.