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Under the patriotic dome
Overview: The Lower Liberty Cap trail leads up to a scenic knob of Entrada sandstone perched on the rim of Ute Canyon. Along the way the trail climbs steeply through the ~1.7 billion year old Precambrian basement rock and crosses the Redlands Fault and provides scenic views of the Redlands, Grand Junction, the Colorado River, the Book Cliffs, and Grand Mesa.
Warning: This trail is steep and has many unprotected sections of exposure. Those with a fear of heights or with poor balance may wish to exercise caution on this trail. The trail is on a north-facing slope and can be icy in winter months. There is no water along the trail - bring all you need.
History: John Otto was the first caretaker of Colorado National Monument and a staunch advocate of its protection before it became a monument. In order to attract attention from the far-away federal government (among other reasons), Otto named many of the landforms in the monument area after patriotic images or ideas. Examples include Independence Monument and Gold Star Canyon. Liberty Cap, a rounded knob of Entrada Sandstone on the rim of Ute Canyon is another topographical reminder of Otto's tenure.
Hike: The trail starts out from the Wildwood trailhead and crosses the lowlands as it winds south towards the cliffs. About 1/2 mile after leaving the trailhead and climbing several low hills the trail drops in to a draw and splits. There is a trail sign that points to the right for Liberty Cap. From here it is a half mile up the small canyon in front of you to the base of the sandstone cliffs above you. The trail is steep in places but well maintained with stone and wood steps where appropriate. The view from the top of the canyon at the base of the sandstone cliffs is spectacular.
Once on top of the Bench, follow the trail south to another junction. You have now come one mile from the trailhead. To your left is the Corkscrew Trail which leads back down to the previous split. The Liberty Cap is another 500 feet above you and to your southeast. Counterintuitively you will head west/southwest from this junction to get there. The trail parallels the sandstone cliff on the Precambrian basement for a while before climbing up a talus slope. Leaving the Precambrian gneiss and schist behind you have crossed more time that the entirety of the Grand Canyon represents.
The trail once again becomes steep and climbs up a series of switchbacks tucked near the head of a small draw. You can catch glimpses of downtown Grand Junction, the biggest city between Denver and Salt Lake, and see how high above the buildings of downtown your are. About halfway from the upper Corkscrew/Liberty Cap junction you passed and the actual Liberty Cap you come across The Step, a moderate ledge that is easy to get up and down provided it is dry. With snow and ice on the trail you will want to exercise caution.
The trail finally levels off about 50-70 feet below the top of the cliffs and makes its way east and southeast. As you round a corner looking at Grand Mesa the Liberty Cap comes into view. From there it is a short stretch south and a small jump-up and you are at the slickrock bench by your destination. Take off your pack and enjoy! It is possible to gain access to Liberty Cap from the east side - a short spur takes you around the north side of the Cap. The view into Ute Canyon is spectacular. You may encounter folks through-hiking from the Rim Rock Drive down to your trailhead, or just down from the road and headed back the same way.
Once you've enjoyed the Cap, head back down to your vehicle the same way you came.
Water Sources: None, bring your own.
Camping: Backcountry camping is permitted in Colorado National Monument. You need a permit from the Visitor's Center and you are limited to 14 days in a calendar year. There are also restrictions on camp proximity to roads and trails. See the park rangers for full details and your permit.
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