Time of year for Rabbit’s Ear
From wildlife to photography, this hike captures the Grand Valley
Rabbit Valley is a broad 20,000-acre high-desert plateau 30 miles west of town and two miles east of the Colorado/Utah border.
Much of it is located within the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, expertly managed by the Bureau of Land Management for multiple use.
There’s an interstate highway running between the dinosaur quarry and the Colorado River. Rafters enjoy year-round flat water floats through Ruby and Horsethief canyons on that mighty river. The world-famous Kokopelli Bicycle trail runs from here to Moab, Utah, attracting mountain bicyclists from around the globe.
Bovine meander throughout this area as historic grazing rights remain intact. Yet, you’ll also find hikers, OHV riders and an official training track, campers, rock hounds, backpackers and horseback riders enjoying these warm late winter days.
Here, wildlife photographers digitally capture wildlife and landscapes, and the wildlife themselves — coyotes, cottontail rabbits, golden eagles and red tailed hawks — lure curious trackers into cedar and juniper stands along the flanks of this intriguing plateau.
One of my favorite hiking trails through this multi-use area is the Rabbit’s Ear Trail.
This six-mile long loop trail is closed to most other uses except hiking. It’s too rugged, steep and narrow in a few places for the horses. You’d have to carry your bicycle if you tried riding here. It’s no place for motorized vehicles, yet it’s perfect for those meandering cattle or a stray hiker here and there.
To find the Rabbit’s Ear trail ead, travel west on Interstate 70 from Grand Junction to the Rabbit Valley exit (Exit 2).
Turn left and travel south over I-70 into Rabbit Valley. Travel one-tenth of a mile past a large staging area where you’ll see a map and information kiosk. Turn left (east) and proceed slowly on a well-graveled one-lane road for 4.3 miles until you see the Rabbit’s Ear Trail head and parking area.
You’ll pass the aforementioned OHV Training Track, a large group gathering and camping area, and plenty of cows on your trek east along this road.
Although the Rabbit’s Ear Trail is open only to hikers, that’s really not a problem since the trail is very near a main section of Kokopelli’s Mountain Bike Trail, it’s adjacent to miles and miles of OHV areas, and the horseback riding in this area is great — without having to go up the hiking trail.
Normally well-marked when the snow isn’t covering this terrain, the trail offers a fabulous panoramic view. (Wear good boots, because it’s still a little snowy and muddy!)
A 2.5-mile hike to the Ruby Canyon Overlook above the Colorado River climbs 700 feet (from 4,500 feet in elevation to 5,200 feet) to one of the most impressive vistas in the Grand Valley. A new loop, added to the top of this trail a few years ago by the BLM, volunteer employees of Williams Energy and Volunteers for Colorado, extends another mile and ties back into the main trail for a pleasant return hike to the parking area.
A handy brochure from BLM notes that hikers are welcomed to the top of this trail “by an awe inspiring, panoramic view stretching from Grand Mesa to the La Sal Mountains in Utah.”
Actually, you can also see the Bookcliffs, from Mt. Garfield west to the horizon near Thompson, Utah. If that’s not enough, take a gander to the south and across the mighty Colorado River, and you’ll be mesmerized by Black Ridge Wilderness Area.
During the Upper-Jurassic Period between 146 and 156 million years ago, this area was part of a basin of shallow lakes, twisting streams, and subtropical vegetation. According to BLM geologists, dinosaurs got stuck in the soft mud near ponds, where they became easy prey for meat eating dinosaurs.
If an animal or plant is quickly buried, it may be preserved as a fossil, which happened a lot in this area. As a result, McInnis Canyons offers an amazing diversity of fossilized plants and animals.
Geologists estimate that about four million years ago during the late Cenozoic Era, movements within the earth began to uplift an area from Fruita to Montrose creating the Uncompahgre Plateau. Canyons eroded into the northwest flank of this uplifted area. “The forces of water, wind, and gravity continue to sculpt this spectacular landscape today.”
As early as 13,000 years ago, Native Americans used the area for hunting animals and gathering plants. By 500 AD, Fremont farmers entered west-central Colorado.
The Fremont Culture was responsible for much of the rock art found in the area.
The Utes were the most recent Native American occupants of western Colorado, and BLM literature states the Utes were one of the first tribes to acquire horses. Small family groups camped, hunted, and gathered foods in local canyons and on nearby mesas here in Rabbit Valley — in the same places we now enjoy.