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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Sedona ROCKS ….

Renowned for extraordinary geologic displays, the Colorado Plateau is an uplifted region of the southwest that contains some of my favorite places in the world to explore…. including Sedona, here on the southern edge.

Looking at the towering red sandstone cliffs I can’t help but wonder how these geologic layers compare to those I am familiar with at the Grand Canyon, Zion, or Colorado National Monument.

It wasn’t as easy as I expected to find displays of the geologic column here in Sedona.  The best mini-geology-lesson I found for this area was the description in this Earthcache associated with a popular sunset vantage point on airport mesa.

As it turns out, most of the red walls here are composed of a locally significant iron-rich layer of rock called Schnebly Hill Sandstone which is topped with the cream-colored Coconino Sandstone and sits above the more easily eroded, quartz embedded, Hermit Shale.

To the north, the Mogollon Rim  is the edge of the erosion-resistant top of the Colorado Plateau.  The upper layer here consists of the same Kaibab Limestone formation that forms the capstone of monoliths at the Colorado National Monument.   So, I discovered, it is the breaking off of the Kaibab capstone that allows the softer sandstones below to be carved into the elaborate sculptured rock formations and canyons that I find so captivating both here and at home.

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I really don’t know much about geology…. but I  did enjoy learning about the beauty of Sedona rocks!