Bench Trail

Round Trip Distance: 8.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4809 - 5520 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Gold Star Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic trail

This is another of three nice hikes that can start at the Gold Star Canyon trailhead. I've seen the trail marked on at least one map as the Ute Indian trail. It is evident from the various examples of rock art that the Indians did indeed use the trail. While the trail is on the Colorado National Monument it's primitive nature and one particular dangerous spot may be why it isn't included on any of their maps or adorned with trail markers and signs. I have heard about special guided hikes that they have done in the past.

Along almost the entire east side of the Colorado National Monument is a cliff of black Precambrian era granite gneiss that towers as much as 500 feet above the valley floor. Atop the Precambrian the softer red Chinle formation and the towering Wingate sandstone cliffs have retreated to form a bench area between the harder Precambrian cliffs and the Wingate cliffs. This trail first climbs to the top of the Precambrian cliff and then traverses southward along the bench to the Liberty Cap trail. The return hike is along the Colorado National Monuments fabulous buffalo fence boundary on the valley floor.

I began at the Gold Star Canyon trailhead along South Broadway. The parking area is a small pullout between the road and monument boundary fence. After walking toward the formidable black cliff my legs were warmed up for the crux of the hike. The trail climbs about 500 feet in less than a quarter mile. If you aren't used to this type of hiking you can take heart that it really isn't that far before the trail levels off and the views are very spectacular along the way.

I reached the junction of the upper trail area after hiking a little less than a half mile. I took the left branch that heads into Gold Star Canyon. The trail was very distinct and easy to follow. I hiked another half mile and took a side trail that leads up to the rim of Gold Star Canyon and Monument Mesa. I thought about hiking across Monument Mesa to the Liberty Cap trail but decided to save that hike for another day. I didn't include that little excursion in the trail map for this post but instead I will create a new post in the future that shows the route up and out of Gold Star Canyon.

After returning to the main trail I followed it around the upper reaches of the ravine that cuts through the middle of the canyon and crossed over to the south side of Gold Star Canyon. The trail headed back out of the canyon and began traversing the bench area towards the southern end of the monument.

There were several shallow unnamed canyons that I came to on the trek over to the Liberty Cap trail. I came to the first of them around the 3 mile point of the hike. At the mouth of the canyon the trail turned up toward the inner reaches and crossed over to the opposite side and followed the high Wingate cliffs back once again to the mouth of the canyon.

After hiking another mile I reached the next canyon with was much smaller. The gashing Precambrian ravine in this canyon reached almost to the back wall of the canyon before allowing passage to the opposite side of the canyon where the trail made its exit back along the bench area between the towering smooth Wingate sandstone cliffs and the rugged Precambrian granite.

The trail routed through Junipers and sagebrush and around colluvial boulders of  Jurassic period, 208 mya, Wingate and Navajo sandstone that had fallen from the upper walls and come to rest on the much older 570 mya Precambrian Era formation as though they had landed over 300 million years back in time. (Sometimes my imagination wanders while I'm hiking.)

I reached the junction of the Liberty Cap trail around the 5.5 mile point of the hike. This part of the Liberty Cap trail was about halfway up the mountain from the Wildwood Trailhead. I had descended the trail a short distance when I passed the marker that indicated 1 mile to the trailhead. I had been hiking for over 3 hours and this was the first time that I had seen any other hikers. The Liberty Cap trail was very busy. I noticed that the parking lot was full to the brim when I passed by it.

The hike back along the bottom area was pleasant and uneventful. On one side of the trail was the buffalo boundary fence of the monument with the encroachment of mostly stucco homes pressing against it and on the other side of the trail was the jewel of geological wonderland of the Colorado National Monument. Looking up at the area I had hiked I was awed to think of the solitude of the trail, traveled by Indians and others over at least the last several hundred years, that skirts the base of the sandstone cliffs so close to the sprawling homes of the valley yet virtually unknown by the occupants.

I met several people on horseback on the short trip back to my vehicle. There was one last mound of rocks that the trail dissected just before the trailhead. The passage rendered a measure of character to the otherwise sameness of the lower trail.

I hiked for over 11 miles all total but I only attribute about 8.5 miles to the main trail. The rest of the hike was spent exploring various areas. If you succumb to the same tendencies to explore you will of course realize a greater distance also. This was a hike that I could do over and over again. There are so many great hikes in this area that I still want to chronicle that it will probably be awhile before I return to this one. If you want to experience this trail for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.