One-way Distance: 16.7 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous +
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 7881 - 8746 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Cottonwood Rd./Delta-Nucla Rd.
Attractions: Forest hike\bike
Tabeguache (TAB-a-watch) is a 150 mile long trail that has one end in Grand Junction, Colorado and the other end in Montrose. This post covers the 16.7 mile section of the trail beginning at the junction of the Cottonwood and 25 Mesa (Delta-Nucla) Roads and ending just south of Long Creek at the Fence Line Trail. Enroute the trail crosses multiple deep canyons and other drainages that tend to make this the most difficult section of all of the Tabeguache trail. Parts of this section of the Tabeguache trail are singletrack. Those that are covering the distance between Grand Junction and Montrose in a jeep or other OHV will need to alter their route for this section probably by following the Divide Road.
The junction of the Cottonwood and 25 Mesa Roads is 26 miles west of Delta, Colorado. To get there turn onto Colorado Highway 348 from Confluence Drive and follow it for about 3.5 miles. At that point Highway 348 makes a sharp left turn. The 25 Mesa Road continues straight ahead and after climbing steadily for 22 miles it reaches its junction with the Cottonwood Road.
The first 2 miles of this leg of the Tabeguache trail follows the Delta-Nucla Road west to a turnoff that is presently marked by a Tabeguache trail marker. We say presently because you never know when someone will shoot or drive over one of the trail markers.
After making the turn the route follows a double track for about a quarter mile to where it ends at a little circular open area. On the east side of the circle there is a trail sign that marks the beginning of a singletrack. There are several primitive camping spots in the area and at times someone will set up camp right on the trail.
The singletrack starts out easy to follow but conditions soon deteriorate as it becomes overgrown by brush and blocked by fallen trees. There are just enough trail markers to point out the correct route if you keep in mind that the singletrack is skirting a private property line. The trail heads back toward the east until it is almost inline with the point where this section began at the Cottonwood Road. Looking on a map you can see a road that cuts across the private property that would have provided a more direct route and would have cutoff about 3 miles.
Near the 5 mile point the trail reaches a faint double track as it comes out of the private property and heads south. After heading south for a short distance the trail begins a big drop into Monitor Canyon. At present there are huge fallen trees on both sides of Monitor Creek that make route finding and progress pretty difficult. We had to break a lot of branches to clear a path to portage our bikes to where the double track climbs out of the south side of the canyon and passes through a gate in the fence. There aren't any trail markers so you have to keep in mind that there is only one route out of the canyon and it is an old double track. The lack of motorized travel has allowed the tail to become very faint in places.
As the trail reaches the south rim of Monitor Canyon it meets Trail #544. The trail continues to the right and after a very short distance it follows a left fork. At this point the trail probably goes 10 miles or more before it comes to another Tabeguache trail marker. The important thing to remember is to stay on Trail #544 at every intersection that comes along. Some maps show 544 as the Roubideau Trail.
Near the 7.5 mile point the trail begins a very rocky descent into Potter Canyon. Potter Canyon is not only deep but it is pretty wide and the climb out of it is a very long grind. After climbing out of Potter Canyon the trail is crossed by the Monitor Mesa Jeep Route, Trail #505, near the 10 mile point, and shortly after that it descends into Criswell Canyon. Criswell is another wide and deep canyon where there are two branches separated by a short ridge.
The trail has climbed out of Criswell by the 12 mile point. While the trail is in between canyons and traveling across the mesas the going is very pleasant and easy. From this point on though it seems that no sooner does the trail get out of one canyon before it begins descending into the next. The canyons aren't nearly as deep though and that makes the climb outs much shorter and relatively speaking much easier.
This is what the elevation profile looks like between the 25 Mesa Road and the East Bull Creek Road. The low spot in the profile is Potter Canyon. As you can see the south side of Potter Canyon is long and steep.
From here the canyons aren't quite as deep making them much easier to climb back out of. After crossing Moore Creek the trail continues across another mesa and just over the 13 mile point it crosses the Traver trail. In the next canyon the trail makes an easy crossing of Traver Creek which is followed by Wright Creek in the canyon after that. After climbing out of Wright Canyon there is a Tabeguache trail marker at the 15.5 mile point which is the first marker that we encountered since the start of Trail #544. Over the next mile the trail crosses two branches of Terrible Creek.
The next canyon is Long Creek. At this point the trail turns sharply to the left and crosses Long Creek which flows through a culvert beneath the road. There isn't a Tabeguache trail marker at this point but Trail #544 goes to the left and that is what the Tabeguache trail is following. The Long Creek trail to the right leads eventually up to the Divide Road.