Cool canyon: This neat, shady place is worth a second hike
Odds are, you’ve read about this canyon. That’s because there are 52 Sundays in a year, and I’ve been writing this column since 2003… approximately 312 columns and counting. And although there is a plethora of absolutely outstanding hikes around here, I’m bound to repeat a few of them — especially my favorites close to town.
That’s why you’ve read about this canyon.
Reading about it, however, doesn’t mean you’ve actually visited Rough Canyon. It’s only 8.6 miles from downtown GJ and as I’ve penned before, this canyon is geologically fascinating, it’s home to some of the world’s most rare plants and animals and, as the name implies, it’s rough, rugged and rocky.
Well, it’s rugged and rocky, but not that rough. It’s not a cakewalk, but you don’t need ropes, either. It gets extremely hot in the middle of summer, but right now, with small pools of water still standing in this canyon, it’s cool and shady in spots. When Glenda and I visited last week, it was sunny and warm as we moved from shade to sun.
To reach this cool canyon, travel west on Grand Avenue past First Street and head toward the Redlands, where Grand Avenue turns into Broadway. Cross the Colorado River and turn left on Monument Road. Take another left on D Road just past the Redlands Vet Clinic and just before the Redlands Canal. You’ll go about .2 miles before D Road ends with a right turn on Rosevale Road.
Stay on Rosevale for 1.2 miles until you get to Little Park Road. Turn right on Little Park and drive another 6.2 miles to the Bangs Canyon Staging Area (about three miles past the Little Park Staging Area). Turn left into the staging area, where you’ll find a large parking area and restroom facility.
The Bureau of Land Management has done a great job of trails management in the Bangs Canyon Special Management Area, southeast of the Colorado National Monument. Rough Canyon lies in the heart of the Bangs Canyon area, which receives considerable recreational use in the spring, summer and fall.
Colorado State Parks helped fund the improvements in this area with a grant secured by the West Slope ATV Association. (The association adopted the Tabeguache Trail in 1990, and has been an active partner in patrolling and maintaining the trail ever since. Tabeguache, a spectacular mountain bike trail running from Grand Junction to Montrose, traverses through this area.)
Hikers, Jeeps, ATVs, horses, motorcycles and bicycles share many of the trails in this special management area. Some trails, however, cater to individual recreational activity by providing great four-wheeling areas, hiking or horseback-only areas, and fantastic fat tire biking areas.
The Billings Canyon Jeep Trail, for example, starts about a mile farther down Little Park Road (you pass it on your way to Rough Canyon trail head), and ends here. It’s billed as “a challenging 4 x 4 experience.” The road leaving Bangs Canyon Staging Area with directions to the Jeep trail is BLM’s preferred access to the Jeep trail. The road about a mile back down Little Park Road (Third Flats) is the easiest and shortest way to get to Billings Canyon Jeep Trail. (Neither of the access roads are one way. Only the actual Billings Canyon Jeep Trail is one way.)
The hiking trails from this trail head to both Rough Canyon and the Mica Mine are for foot traffic only. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are not allowed. You’ll see why after a few hundred yards.
The trail head is well-marked and initially it leads to both the Mica Mine and Rough Canyon. It splits in very short order. The right fork takes you to the Mica Mine and the left trail leads to the tangled maze of Rough Canyon, where the Spineless Hedgehog cactus and rare Canyon Tree Frog live.
You may or may not spot the rare Spineless Hedgehog cactus Echinocereus triglochidiatus forma inermissince they’re so rare. You probably won’t see or hear the frogs right now either, since they’ve buried themselves deep into the mud for the rest of the winter.
Another thing you may not see is the Grand Junction milkvetch, a “broad leaf” plant with no leaves, just green stems holding up showy pea-family white flowers. This plant grows only on the northeast side of the Uncompahgre Uplift, and nowhere else on earth.
The temperature hovered around 65 degrees in the sun the other day as we traveled through Rough Canyon, crossing the path of only one other pair of hikers.
As a general rule, you’ll not see many hikers in Rough Canyon this time of year — although that may change if you go today, since everyone else reading about this canyon AGAIN is finally going out to hike it!