Wheels, boots, hooves–there’s plenty to do right over the Colorado line
Folks from Moab who drive to Grand Junction sail right through a popular recreational area enjoyed by those on motorcycles and four-wheelers, hikers, campers, equestrians and fossil hunters. Rabbit Valley is just a couple of miles east of the Utah/Colorado line, and has points of interest on both sides of the Interstate 70 off-ramps.
Rabbit Valley is the first of four exits from west to east that accesses the McInnis Canyons National Conservation area, the most eastern exit being at Fruita.
At Rabbit Valley, the east side of the interstate has numerous trailheads designed for specific types of users. The north side is called the Trail Through Time, which features the region’s paleontological resources at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, along with a 1.5-mile interpretive loop that tells of its 140-million-year-old dinosaur fossils.
Trails are marked with permitted activities. Rabbit Valley is a hotspot for roaring ATVs, but one trail — Jouflas — allows foot and hoof access only.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees the area. There are three campgrounds: Jouflas, Castle Rocks and Knowles Overlook. Dispersed camping is allowed only in designated sites, which are numbered and signed. Campers must use fire-pans and their own portable toilets at the dispersed campsites. Check with the BLM to determine availability with regard to closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrooms are currently closed and locked.
The east side of Rabbit Valley borders the Colorado River. It is a pinyon-juniper desert landscape with rimrock outcrops, and trails wind through unique sandstone formations and over ledges.
The non-motorized, non-mountain bike Jouflas Trail got its name from the Jouflas family, who were prominent sheep ranchers in the area. It is one of the few trails in the area that is open only to equestrians and hikers.
The trail is an in-and-out track, unless one chooses to make a loop and connect with a Jeep road to circle back to the trailheads near the interstate.
Views from the apex of the trail, which overlooks the Colorado River canyon, are spectacular. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad track parallels the river below, and one can often see a freight train or Amtrak’s California Zephyr chugging by. This time of year, water lovers are floating and paddling through this stretch of calm river between the Loma put-in and the Westwater ramp. Long vistas take in the La Sal Mountains, the canyon cut caused by the Dolores River, and the Uncompahgre Plateau.
It’s not clear how Rabbit Valley got its name. It’s certainly not the only place called Rabbit Valley in the West. It could have been named for the prolific Rabbit Brush that grows there, or for the populations of cottontail and jackrabbits that live there.
Livestock still graze in the valley, and there is an active cowboy camp and corrals near the Jouflas trailhead.