Lose the Crowds…

A sunny spring weekend is ripe for outdoor adventures, but unfortunately I find the throngs of fellow adventurers to be a deterrent.  Roads, campgrounds and many popular trails can become clogged with spontaneous weekend visitors. Luckily, our plans include a few strategies for losing the crowds and finding a bit of springtime solitude.

Five suggestions come to mind:

First, pack light… Today we’ll leave our pop-up trailer behind and opt instead for throwing sleeping gear, a small cooler and picnic basket in the back of the truck to allow for spending the night out somewhere if we choose to.  We are looking forward to making our tent trailer a home base  for summer adventures farther from home, but this weekend we don’t want to add finding a campsite to our frustrations. 2.  Hit the backroads… We make distance on the freeways but our destination will be down narrow scenic byways and the dirt roads that spider off from there.  Having a high clearance vehicle is a great advantage, and 4wd is even better. 3.  Get out of the vehicle…Take a walk! It’s always fun to explore some little used jeep trail to remote destinations but the best wilderness experience is multi-sensory and requires a bit of physical exertion. Losing the tire tracks and most of the footprints is one sure way to lose the crowds.  I like to follow my sense of curiosity… What IS over that next hill? Even on the most popular of weekends this strategy will thin crowds to a trickle… most people stick to the asphalt. . . even (maybe especially) in the big name national parks! The roads were full of ATV-laden trailers and RVs, but today we have the hiking trails all to ourselves!

4.  Load the GPS with geocaching adventures….. I consider this the best strategy of all… to seek out caches where I can pull off the side of the road, lace up my boots and head cross-country to follow fellow cacher’s recommendations to a “favorite hidden gem”.

This way, I am in for a physical and mental challenge that is generally not on the map.  I like to look for caches that give parking coordinates and describe the terrain.  A terrain difficulty of 3.5 or 4 often promises some of the most diverse and rewarding of views.

5.  Go prepared – hiking sticks, water bottles or camelbaks, snacks, camera, GPS, first aid kit, gazetteer maps, binoculars, bird and flower identification books, sketch pad, pencil and pen… these are a few of the things I typically throw in my bag as we head out.  Plan to spend some time, change plans on the fly, enjoy the day.

What would you add to the list? It’s another beautiful day out there… bet I can find a quiet spot!… Ready?

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Exploring CNM… Liberty Cap and Otto’s Bathtub

My favorite wilderness begins almost in my backyard.  The Colorado National Monument is often overlooked by visitors to our area, apparently due to its misleading name.  Not a roadside plaque, this Monument is a scenic red rock playground.  Several trails lead across cap rock ledges or through remote sandstone canyons lined with Precambrian bedrock and speckled with freestanding monoliths.

So far this week I have enjoyed hiking over 15 miles along two of my favorite CNM trails. . .

The Liberty Cap trail begins at over 6000 feet.  We traversed patches of snow and mud in the first half mile, before emerging into more exposed areas where the trail was moist but solid…. eventually becoming totally dry.

About three miles into the hike we diverted onto a side trail that led to the edge of a sandstone ridge.  Here, overlooking the length of Monument Canyon, a large pothole pours off through a small opening and down the sandstone cliff.  The park’s first promoter, John Otto, once modified this natural feature to collect water for his own purposes.  The small opening was plugged and steps carved into the rock wall to allow access from the ledge above.

A strong handle of juniper, embedded into the sandstone,  provides for a stable grip.  This landmark appears on park maps labeled as “Otto’s Bathtub”.

The path is about a mile each way off the main trail and the views are well worth the trip.  Along the route is also one of my favorite capstone ledge walks leading across a narrow section of sculpted rock.

Continuing east on the main trail leads to the namesake rock feature, Liberty Cap.  Here the view of the valley opens completely unobstructed in front of you.  Follow the cairns over the rim to begin a steep descent into the valley.  The trail is carved dramatically into the cliff walls for much of the final two miles.

Since the Liberty Cap trail is listed at seven miles in length… adding the side trip to Otto’s Bathtub will bring your day’s mileage to about nine if you travel from the upper trailhead to the lower (or visa versa)… a perfect spring day’s outing!

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