THE RIMROCKER TRAIL
Parts 1 and 2
As described here, the Rimrocker Trail was run from east to west, that is, from Montrose CO to the Colorado / Utah state line. Part 1 covers Montrose to Nucla; Part 2 will cover Nucla to Highway 141.
The Rimrocker Trail is very well signed for its entire length and an excellent paper map is available from the Montrose Visitors Center, the Visitors Center in Naturita and several other locations. Another resource is http://co.montrose.co.us/701/Rimrocker-Trail. Click on “Interactive Map Viewer and Downloaded GPS” button for information and maps; buttons on the side will take you to information on staging areas, Nucla, Naturita, etc. Mileage and GPS waypoints are provided in this article for additional guidance. GPS coordinates and mileage are approximate; watch for signage and consult your maps. All of the roads are legal county roads and the trail runs completely within the boundaries of Montrose County.
Montrose to Nucla
To access The Rimrocker Trail, start out headed west from Montrose on Main Street. Shortly after leaving town, Main Street becomes Colorado State Road 90; continue to follow SR 90 (some left & right turns) until just beyond the pavement end. Here you will find a nice large, flat staging area (GPS N38.25.83 / W107.59.12) that is perfect for off-loading OHVs, airing down tires, etc. There are no facilities here, at this time. Leaving the staging area, turn left and you’re on your way. You’ll shortly see the first Rimrocker Trail signpost, florescent green at this point. The Trail begins to travel up and over the Uncompahgre Plateau on good, graded dirt road. The Uncompahgre Plateau is a long narrow flat-topped fault block about 25 miles wide and 100 miles long. The route the Rimrocker Trail takes you over reaches a high point of 9,840 feet by means of a gradual climb.
By the time you enter the Uncompahgre National Forest (approximately 11.7 miles from the staging area) you’re already at 9,000 feet. At this point the signposts you’ve been following change from the florescent green to forest brown. They are a little harder to spot, but keep an eye out, the trail remains well marked. It should also be noted that although you are still on the same road, it is now signed as Forest Road 540. Continue to follow FR540 , which changes numbers to FR402 (aka Divide Road) at 15.2 miles, through aspen and pine forest with some open meadows. At various times and in various places, we have seen deer, elk, fox and coyote along the route between Montrose and Nucla. A word of caution, some of the forest is open range and, in season, firewood cutting is allowed in some areas so be on the lookout for both cattle and logging trucks.
Forest Road 402 / Divide Road provides access to several other roads, which are well worth taking time to investigate. Some of our favorites include Robideau Jeep Road (access is from Fence Line Road) and Monitor Mesa Road (accessed from Q38 Road at Columbine Pass)both of which show on the paper map; although there are numerous others along this stretch of the Rimrocker. An important left hand turn is at Columbine Pass, approximately 30.8 miles from the staging are (GPS N38.25.01 / W108.22.88). Your gradual descent will become more pronounced after this left turn. As you descend toward Nucla the views to the west begin to open up with Lone Cone standing out on the horizon.
47.1 miles from leaving the staging area, you will leave the forest and hit pavement as you near Nucla. The road is now called 25 Mesa Road and is an approved OHV route through the town of Nucla. Continue on 25 Mesa Road until turning right on East 4th (GPS N38.16.21 / W108.32.24) and at 53.3 miles from the staging area, you will turn left onto Main Street in Nucla CO and head south. Driving time from Main St. Montrose to Main St Nucla is about 2 hours.
Nucla to Highway 141
Traveling south through Nucla you will pass the Fifth Ave Cafe, a small grocery store and further on a gas station. Additional services of motel, convenience store, car wash and visitors center are available 4 miles further south in Naturita. (Note: if you will be continuing on beyond Highway 141, this is your last chance for gas. Considering filling up in either Nucla or Naturita.) To continue on the Rimrocker Trail turn right on West 10th / CC Rd, at the City Park ( GPS N38.15.70 / W108.32.77) and reset your trip meter to follow mileages in this article.
From Nucla City Park, the Rimrocker Trail makes a series of right and left turns (27 Road, 26 Road and Z26 Road) before pavement ends 6 miles out of Nucla. There is an important left turn at 7.7 miles from Nucla, where Z26 continues north and the Rimrocker turns west on V19 Road. The turn is well marked, even though V19 is not as well maintained. This part of the Rimrocker across Second and Third Park occasionally passes through private property. Please respect the landowners rights and stay on the designated road. As you travel north and west along the mesa top, there are views of the Uncompahgre Plateau to the east, red rock canyons to the west and the La Sal Mountains in Utah ahead. Although you can’t see it, you are paralleling Highway 141 and the San Miguel River. (As a side note, there is an informative guide to Highway 141 north from Naturita to Gateway if you ever want to run the paved highway. The guide is available in the visitors center at Naturita.)
There are a couple of other important turns along the way – the trail continues down into a canyon following a sharp right at 15.3 miles and at 22.3 miles continue to follow signs to the left onto a lesser maintained road.
26.5 miles from Nucla you begin to enter the mining area on the east side of Highway 141. In fact, “Rimrocker” was the name given to the miners who worked the many mines which were in this area including the Joe, the Sandy, Fox, Delores, Club Sandwich, Last Chance and Ophir to name only a few. At this point, I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about the mining in the Uravan area: the area is rich in carnonite ore, which contains radium, vanadium and uranium. The name Uravan is derived from a combination of uranium and vanadium. In the early to mid 1940s, U.S. Vanadium built a mill at Uravan to process mill tailings into uranium oxide or yellowcake. Yellowcake was sent elsewhere in the county where it was enriched into bomb material and used in the atomic bombs that ended World War II. Because of the mining and the mill, Uravan continued to prosper until 1971 when the government was no longer acquiring uranium. The price began a steady decline, construction of new nuclear power plants declined and stockpiles were sold, both of which further the decline in price. The Uravan mill was closed in 1984, Superfund cleanup was begun and the town closed in December 1986.
Continuing north and west from Nucla, the Rimrocker Trail drops down into a 50 foot layer of Navajo sandstone, the same type of rock that forms some of the scenery in Utah and elsewhere in the Colorado Plateau.
As was true in Part 1, the Rimrocker Trail in this section also provides access to many other roads and trails, which are worth investigating for the adventuresome. Roads along this stretch worth exploring include Monogram Mesa Loop / Bull Canyon Tour, EE22, which will take you to the burial site for the town of Uravan and Y11 road, which will take you past the Hanging Flume and the confluence of the San Miguel and Delores rivers.
The Rimrocker continues to parallel Highway 141 and, now, the Delores River. The views to the north and west really open up and the erosion of the river through the sandstone is really awesome. A short section of shelf road, a couple of sharp turns, a downhill, across the flats and 34 1/2 miles after leaving Nucla you are back at Highway 141 (GPS N38.26.25 / W108.40.29) at the intersection with Q12 Road.
Driving time from Nucla City Park to Highway 141 is about 2 1/2 hours.
With so much rich history, a mining past and Navajo sandstone, it’s no wonder this area is so reminiscent of Moab. So… the next time you’re headed to Moab, consider starting in Montrose CO and running the Rimrocker Trail. With all the trails it provides direct access to and other trails in both the Montrose and Nucla / Naturita areas, you just may not get to Moab at all!
Happy Trails and Stay Safe out there.