Sunday, March 8, 2015
Since I’ve been busy moving these past couple of weeks, we didn’t stray far from home again this weekend. On Sunday morning we woke up early (even after losing an hour of sleep to daylight savings time) and made our way over to the Colorado National Monument to hike a new loop trail I have wanted to try for a while. Ever since I climbed up Otto’s Staircase and visited Otto’s Bathtub last year, I have wanted to combine those trails into a loop across the top of Monument Mesa.
First, we dropped off Diane’s car at the Wildwood Trailhead which is where we planned to end the hike at the lower end of the Liberty Cap trail. We arrived just as the sun struck the face of the Monument, so I took a few quick photos before we left.
Liberty Cap above the trailhead.
Warm light on the face of the Monument.
After leaving the Wildwood Trailhead in my Jeep, we drove over to the White Rocks Trailhead where we would be starting the hike from.
Following the trail into Gold Star Canyon. The mouth of Gold Star Canyon is in the shadows on the left. The trail we followed climbed steeply to the right onto the Precambrian Bench.
Great views all around in Gold Star Canyon from the top of the Precambrian Bench.
We followed the Bench Trail, which we had used on our Colorado National Monument Traverse last year, until we reached the faint side trail that would take us to the base of Otto’s Staircase.
Diane stops to check out the view as we follow the slickrock to the beginning of the staircase.
Soon we found the beginning of the staircase hidden behind a tree. First you need to climb on the stack of rocks at the bottom to reach the metal post that has been pounded into the rock.
Then you need to pull yourself up onto the metal post so you can reach the shallow steps that are carved into the sandstone above it. It’s trickier than it looks, especially for those of us who are not great climbers to begin with.
Looking back down over the steps I had just climbed up. From this point you need to find your way up a few more steep cliff bands. There are two more sections that have steps carved, so you need to keep a lookout for those.
Diane on the last ledge before the final climb to the top.
Looking for handholds as she climbs the last section.
A nice view from the top of Monument Mesa. You can actually see the whole route we climbed up in this photo.
The same photo as above with the approximate route we climbed.
When we reached the top of Monument Mesa we cross-country hiked through the Pinyon-Juniper forest until we reached the last sandstone bench that we would have to climb up today. When we reached the top of this bench we had great views over Monument Canyon and over the Grand Valley to the Book Cliffs.
Sandstone monoliths in Monument Canyon.
Diane on the edge. Monument Canyon to her left with Saddlehorn in the distance.
We stopped to check out Otto’s Bathtub up here.
More steps carved in the side here allowing access to the bottom of the large pothole. There’s another wood post in the sandstone here above the steps in the shadow.
Diane crossing a sandstone bridge on top of the mesa.
We dropped down below the top of the bench to visit this nice arch. I’m not sure if it has a generally accepted name, so I just call it Otto’s Arch.
Another smaller arch along the way.
This is a pretty cool area to explore. I really need to catch a sunrise and sunset up here sometime.
After exploring the area a bit we picked up the Liberty Cap trail which we would follow back down the the trailhead. The first few miles to the edge are pretty uneventful as you follow an old road, but once you reach the edge things get more exciting on the descent.
Tight switchbacks drop you from the edge of the mesa down to the level with Liberty Cap.
I’ve been to Liberty Cap many times before, so we didn’t stick around here long.
View over Ute Canyon.
Once last photo during the descent of the Liberty Cap trail back into the Grand Valley.
In total, the hike ended up being about 7.5 miles and we completed it in less than 5 hours. It was a nice loop that visits some scenic areas of the Colorado National Monument, but Diane has informed me that she will not be climbing up Otto’s Staircase again in the future!