Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lower Monument Canyon Trail-Colorado Nat. Monument

The Lower Monument Canyon Trail is one of the backcountry trails in Colorado National Monument in western Colorado. The trailhead is not along the main Rim Rock Drive. From the west entrance, continue east along Highway 340 for about 2 miles. There is a small sign for the trailhead and the entrance looks like you are entering someone’s driveway.

All the Colorado National Monument trails have good trailhead maps and information signs. The Monument Canyon Trail allows views of the large eroded formations that most visitors view from the Rim Rock Drive. The total trail is 6 miles to the Coke Oven Trailhead, with a climb from 4700 feet at the trailhead to 6140 feet at Coke Ovens. I hiked the 2.4 miles to Independence Monument with a climb from 4700 feet to 5289 feet.
The first 15 minutes of hiking seems odd in that the trail follows the park fence line. There is wilderness on one side and suburban living on the other. The overly large fence may be for the bison that once were here. The bison have been removed and now there is a healthy herd of mountain sheep roaming the park.

After entering Monument Canyon, the trail hugs the contours along the right side of the canyon, climbing steadily. The trail is improved with carved steps. Most of the climbing is along this segment.

The first named formation that comes into view is the Kissing Couple. The upper part of the Monument Canyon Trail passes around the Kissing Couple and heads up the canyon to the left.

When the views east open up, the Pipe Organ and the Praying Hands are visible. These formations are below the point that Otto’s Trail visits.

The route approaches the north side of Independence Monument. The trailhead map shows the unimproved Wedding Canyon Trail junction here but the junction isn’t marked with a sign and wasn’t otherwise obvious. The Wedding Canyon Trail loops back to the Lower trailhead for a 4.7 mile hike. The junction close to the trailhead wasn’t marked but was obvious.

It took me 1:30 hours to arrive at Independence Monument where I turned around. I hiked on a cloudy 65 F degree early October day and caught a few sprinkles of rain. I carried and drank 2 liters of water. My downhill return hike on the main trail took 1:00 hour for a total time of 2:30 hours for 4.8 miles.

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