Yesterday morning at 7:15 a.m., I arrived at the Wildwood Trailhead, grabbed my small camera bag and water bottle, and headed up the trail.  My destination:  Liberty Cap, a sandstone formation that sits atop a high cliff in Colorado National Monument and looks like a giant sandstone Hershey’s Kiss.

The arrow points to the Liberty Cap formation

 Looks kind of far away in the photo, doesn’t it? The hike up to the Liberty Cap is only 2 miles from the trailhead, but seems much further due to the steep ascent. It’s a killer, and if you are scared of heights/exposure (like I am), I DO NOT recommend hiking DOWN the Liberty Cap trail. The trail is very steep with loose scree and gravel, and just the thought of going down, looking at the sharp dropoffs, gives me chills yet.  I can hike UP the trail, simply because I can’t see how steep it is behind me. The worst part by far is from when you begin to climb up behind the big slab up until the juncture where the Liberty Cap and Corkscrew Trails split (about a mile).  Here is a shot of the trail juncture.  I found a rock (in the shade) and rested for several minutes at this point, drank some water, ate my granola bar, and watched a brightly colored collared lizard eat a mid-morning snack.

At the trail junction, Liberty Cap splits to the right, and Ute Canyon/Corkscrew heads left

The ascent up the second mile to Liberty Cap is a little more gentle and is full of switchbacks as you still do quite a bit of climbing.  While going up, the trailhead parking lot caught my eye.  My car was just a tiny dot, and I still wasn’t all the way to the top yet.

Cars look like toys from this height

Finally, I rounded a corner and was able to see the Liberty Cap.  I had reached my destination!


At last!



Liberty Cap with one of the interesting rock formations on the surrounding bench







Until recently, there was an old ladder on the north side of Liberty Cap that you could climb all the way to the top.  The NPS has taken the ladder down for now due to safety concerns.  Of course, since I’m afraid of heights, I wouldn’t have attempted the climb anyway!  The contrast between the two “worlds” you can see from the bench at the top is amazing.  On the north side, the developed Grand Valley with its irrigated fields, orchards and suburbia spreads out before you.

Awesome views of the Grand Valley


On the other side, the beautiful unspoiled, wild red/orange walls of Ute Canyon, punctuated with the vibrant greens of pinyons, junipers and sage, rise from the canyon floor.

Ute Canyon


Ute Canyon

 I walked around for a bit, savoring the gorgeous views from high above.  I wandered and found the official sign for Liberty Cap, which was actually quite a ways back from it (what’s up with that?)  The trail does continue from here and winds its way back down to the floor of Ute Canyon and on up to Rim Rock Drive (a distance of another 5 miles, with little elevation gain).  I opted to head back down instead.


Liberty Cap and the sandstone bench


The NPS sign, further up the trail

I headed back down to the trail juncture and went on the Ute Canyon/Corkscrew Trail, which in very short turn splits yet again, with the Ute Canyon Trail heading up the canyon, and Corkscrew going down.  There is the most awesome old dead tree near the second junction that if I could be there in the right light, and find the right composition, would be such a cool subject to shoot.

Old, twisted tree on the trail

I wonder how long this tree has been dead, and how long it’s been here? The dry desert air has preserved all those wonderful twists in the trunk, rather than decaying into a pile of goo like trees do back “home.”


The Corkscrew Trail is aptly named, as there are numerous switchbacks to get you back down the canyon wall.  The descent is so much more gentle than the Liberty Cap Trail, it’s amazing. It also makes a nice loop in combination with the Liberty Cap, and allows you to see geologic features from different perspectives.  You get great views of the Precambrian rock in this area coming down the Corkscrew.  The Precambrian rock is the dark, black rock and are the oldest group of rocks on earth. 

Precambrian rock on the Corkscrew Trail

Unfortunately, about 3/4 of the way down the trail, I somehow lost the trail.  Don’t know how that happened as it’s pretty well defined, but somewhere in scrambling down the numerous washes and boulders, I found myself in a spot that didn’t look familiar, and I had been moving too long (and not really paying attention to where I was going) to simply retrace my steps.  I knew I needed to keep going down off the canyon wall, and then needed to veer back west. I was a little worried because I had greedily sucked down all but two swallows of my water, thinking I was “almost there.”  The temperature had risen to the mid-80’s already, and the sun at this altitude is intense and unrelenting.  I also had seen only 6 hikers on the trail in a space of 3 hours.  Not good…  I kept following the wash I was in, then when it joined another wash, followed it down until almost at the bottom.  I decided at this point it would be best to climb up on a ridge to get a better perspective of where I was.  I decided to start heading west, and about 5 minutes later I found a very faint path.  I followed it in hopes it would lead me to the main trail, and fortunately it did.  I was never so glad to see an official trail marker!  When I finally got back to my car at around 11 a.m., I was thoroughly exhausted and extremely thirsty.  I stopped at the Conoco station at 24 Rd. & Patterson, bought a 32 oz. Pepsi from the fountain with as much ice as I could pack in the glass, and sucked down half of it before I got home.
I had hiked right at 5 miles with an elevation gain of around 1,000 feet (most of that gained in the first mile of the trail).  The views from the bench surrounding Liberty Cap are amazing and well worth the effort.  It’s a hike I will definitely do again!