Roughing it

Don't let Rough Canyon's name scare you away

Rough Canyon might be rough, rugged and rocky, but it’s only 8.6 miles from town and still plenty cool in the mornings and evenings.

Rough Canyon Waterfall, which is dry as a bone right now, is 2.33 miles from the trail head, and is worth the effort to see, wet or dry.

Some path-finding skills may be required when hiking Rough Canyon, since the trail jumps from side to side on your way down this rugged canyon.


Rough Canyon

Drive time and distance: 22 minutes, 8.6 miles

Length: 4.5 miles round trip

Hiking Time: 2+ hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Rough Canyon is only 8.6 miles from downtown GJ, yet from what I can tell, it’s rarely visited.

Maybe it’s the name, but this canyon is geologically fascinating, it is 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 all that rough. It’s not a cakewalk, but you don’t need ropes, either.

It gets extremely hot in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer, but early in the morning and late in the evening, with small pools of water still standing in this canyon, it’s cool and shady — at least on the way down to the Rough Canyon Falls.

To reach Rough 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 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 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 is initially well marked and leads to both the Mica Mine and Rough Canyon. It splits in very short order. The right fork takes you to the Mica Mine, the left trail leads to the tangled maze of Rough Canyon, where the Spineless Hedgehog cactus and rare Canyon Tree Frog live.

From here, some path-finding skills may be required, since the trail jumps from side to side on your way down this canyon. You may or may not spot the rare Spineless Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus forma inermis), since they’re so rare.

You might or might not see or hear the Canyon Tree Frog (hyla arenicolor) right now as well, since they’re tiny — about the size of a nickel — and they are more active at night, preferring to rest during the day in small depressions in solid rock near pools of water.

Although we did not spot a Spineless Hedgehog Cacti or Canyon Tree Frog on this trip, we did spot a Red-spotted Toad at the bottom of the dry Rough Canyon Falls. Or maybe it was a juvenile Woodhouse’s Toad (Bufo woodhousii).

One thing you might see and not even know it is the Grand Junction Milkvetch, a “broad leaf” plant with no leaves, just green stems holding up showy pea-family white flowers. This odd plant grows only on the northeast side of the Uncompahgre Uplift, and nowhere else on earth, and it’s pretty rare here!

The temperature hovered around 70 degrees when we began our hike the other day, and heated up to about 90 degrees by the time we completed our round trip.

Once you reach the Rough Canyon Falls, you’ll rim out, but if you follow the rim to the left (north), you can make your way to the bottom of the dry waterfall for a cool break in the shade, and some very cool pictures.

Then, make your way back up out of the bottom of the streambed, continuing toward the left or north as you’re facing downstream.

Watch for the trail that leads you to an old parking area and Jeep trail within a few hundred yards. That’s part of the Tabaguache Trail. Follow that road back to the parking lot, or retrace your steps back out of the canyon.

Hike this one early or late in the day. Take plenty of water and sunscreen, and don’t forget the camera!


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