The Face of the Monument | West to East
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Years ago I had the idea of hiking across the face of the Colorado National Monument from one entrance to the other but never seemed to get around to planning the route and following through on the hike because I was usually heading elsewhere for my weekends. A few weeks ago I told Diane about this idea and she was interested in joining me, so I finally got determined to follow through and started planning the route. Much of the route follows existing trails that I have hiked many times in the past, but there were a few segments that I needed to check out and find a few connecting off-trail routes between them. Over the past few weeks I have gone out a few times after work and scouted these segments to come up with the complete route. I’m sure there have been other’s who have done this hike in one shot before, but I had been unable to find any info about a complete route during my research, so I’m going to include as much info on the route as I can. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below if you would like to attempt this hike.
After figuring out the complete route we decided on April 12 as the day we would attempt the hike. It turned out to be a good choice since the temperature was in the low 70’s and overall the weather was very nice. In the morning there was a nice sunrise and then some nice clouds in the early morning light, but as the day grew older more clouds moved in and the second half of the hike was under mostly overcast skies. We left the trailhead shortly before sunrise at Dead Man’s Curve around 6:45am and finished the traverse at the Devil’s Kitchen parking lot in No Thoroughfare Canyon shortly after 1:45pm. We took our time and didn’t rush the hike which took us just over 7 hours and was just a little over 12 miles total.
After leaving early from my house, we left Diane’s car in the Devil’s Kitchen parking lot (since the picnic area’s lot was closed) and then drove my Jeep over to the Fruita entrance and parked at a pull-out in Dead Man’s Curve where we descended a steep talus slope to connect to an old road grade into Lizard Canyon. We followed the Lizard Canyon trail to the Wedding Canyon Trail and then connected to the Monument Canyon Trail. We had considered going up Wedding Canyon to Independence Monument and then down Monument Canyon, but we wanted to stay closer to the face of the Monument and didn’t want to add too much more elevation gain on our first attempt. That segment would make a nice alternate route in the future. When we reached Monument Canyon we left the trail and followed the wash a short ways until we reached a smaller wash that would take us up behind the Little Island and then on to the Precambrian Bench. This would be our first off-trail section of the day and the steepest climb all day, too. Once on the bench we would follow this mostly-level hike all the way to Red Canyon, which would take us around Gold Star Canyon and a few other small unnamed side canyons. We passed Bench Trail Arch at around the half-way point of the traverse and then reached the popular Liberty Cap Trail which was where we would run into other people for the first and only time on the hike. We soon left them behind as we continued up the Ute Canyon Trail and then turned off on another little-used path that would take us over to Red Canyon. This section of the trail was washed out in a few places, but is still passable. Once we reached the top of Red Canyon we would come to the most difficult section of the hike; another off-trail route that we would need to descend into Red Canyon. A few weeks back I had scouted this area to try and find a way down but had cliffed out a few times. I eventually found a very steep and loose route that would take us to the bottom of the canyon. Once in the wash we followed it towards the park boundary and then followed a few more faint trails past an old historic structure and then to the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area. From there we followed a short section of the Serpent’s Trail back to our vehicle.
I don’t normally include maps and GPS tracks in my trip reports, but I am going to include that information here in case anyone else out there would like to give this route a try and could benefit from my research and experience. This traverse is a great way to see a lot of what the Colorado National Monument has to offer including wildlife, beautiful desert scenery, solitude, petroglyphs and even some history.
Now that the logistics and overview of the trip are out of the way, here are plenty of photos with a little narrative from the traverse.
The start of the long hike from Dead Man’s Curve shortly before the sun came up.
Looking back towards my Jeep before we start the descent into Lizard Canyon.
The old road grade into Lizard Canyon.
Sunrise from the bottom of Lizard Canyon.
Sunlight peeking out through a small hole in the clouds above Mount Garfield and the Book Cliffs.
Diane descending down the trail into Wedding Canyon.
There was a lot of Evening Primrose along this first stretch of the trail.
One more look back as we follow the trail past Wedding Canyon.
The Wedding Canyon trail along the face of the Monument skirts around The Island.
Soon we reached the superhighway, I mean trail that leads into Monument Canyon. Nice morning light on the cliffs of Monument Mesa.
That gap between the Little Island and Monument Mesa would be our route up onto the Precambrian Bench.
Tilted sandstone at the base of The Island
Beautiful scene as we entered Monument Canyon. We had the best light of the day for photos when we hiked through Monument Canyon and up past the Little Island.
Independence Monument comes into view as we enter the canyon.
We took a short side trip to visit a few petroglyphs.
Nice light on the cliffs of The Island and Independence Monument.
Hiking up the wash for a short distance.
Great view from the pass between Monument Mesa and the Little Island.
The remains of an old cattle fence can be seen in the shadow of the Little Island in this photo. There are a lot of historic relics that can be found along this route.
A nice view of Mushroom Rock as we finish the ascent onto the Precambrian Bench.
A wider view with the point of Monument Mesa above.
Looking up at the point.
There were plenty of wildflowers along the trail.
Diane coming around the bend.
Great scenery as we circled around the amphitheater containing Gold Star Canyon.
The light was hitting these flowers just right.
Looking towards Otto’s Staircase. Trust me, it’s there!
Gold Star Canyon wash. This is the only segment of the route that I had not hiked before, so it figures that I missed a turn and followed the wash a little too far before figuring out my error and having to backtrack a little bit. Once we found the trail again it was smooth sailing the rest of the day.
There’s no shortage of beautiful sandstone monoliths towering above the Bench Trail.
We also saw plenty of Indian Paintbrush on the bench.
I was hoping to see my first Collared Lizard of the year on this hike, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Posing for the camera!
More scenery along the Bench Trail.
A Golden Eagle soars above us. There was a second one not in this photo.
This view of Bench Trail Arch marked the halfway point of the traverse.
More great views as we neared the popular and busy Liberty Cap Trail. The only time we would see anyone else during our traverse was when we followed a short section of the Liberty Cap Trail.
We passed a few more historic relics between the Liberty Cap Trail and Corkscrew Trail.
The view up Ute Canyon as we got off the main trail and continued to follow a little-used path towards Red Canyon.
Diane on the trail with Liberty Cap above.
Another old fence we passed through.
View back towards Liberty Cap over a short unnamed canyon.
Rounding the corner to Red Canyon.
View up Red Canyon before our steep descent.
Diane was hoping all day that we would see some bighorn sheep on this hike and by this point I figured we wouldn’t be seeing any. Lucky for us, we came across two of them as we climbed down into Red Canyon. They didn’t stick around long once we spotted them, so I was only able to get this quick shot of their backs.
A small pool in the wash where we reached the bottom of the canyon. We were happy to be back on flatter terrain again.
A pour-over we bypassed right before the confluence with Columbus Canyon.
Red Canyon is a beautiful hike in the spring with running water.
Nearing the end of Red Canyon.
Cool sandstone wall.
Following the trail over slickrock near the Monument’s boundary.
We passed this old historic structure along the way. I have not been able to find any information about it’s history, so if anyone out there has any information I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
The final stretch of trail leading the way to the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area.