This full-day river trip traverses 16 miles of wilderness gorge, encountering demanding rapids guaranteed to get you wet. This is our most exciting whitewater river trip and is NOT for the timid. Participants must be mentally and physically prepared to paddle in earnest and assist in their own rescue in the event of a "swim" or flip (Class 4/Difficult, Class 5/Very Difficult, in high water). The Box season begins in April, with the highest flows usually occuring around early June.
Minimum age is 12. We provide buffet style lunch, wet suits, wet suit booties, rain gear, gloves in cool weather, rain gear in hot weather and all necessary rafting equipment. If you intend to wear a wet suit, dress in form-fitting undergarments (bathing suit, tights, cycling shorts etc.) so that you can pull on your wetsuit without difficulty. Bring a change of clothes with you.
The Taos Box section of the Rio Grande River is located immediately to the west of the town of Taos. The Rio Grande river rises in the San Juan Mountains of southcentral Colorado, and flows eastward past Creede, to enter the San Luis Valley, a vast ancient lake-bed. At Alamosa the river turns south and heads for New Mexico. At the southern margin of the San Luis Valley, and 10 miles north of the New Mexico state line, the Rio Grande begins to cut the Rio Grande Gorge. The Rio Grande Gorge runs 68 miles through southern Colorado and New Mexico, ending as the Rio Grande enters the Espanola Valley, just north of Santa Fe. The Taos Box section is included in the newly designated Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. as well as being a charter river of the National Wild and Scenic River System.
The only road access into the Rio Grande Gorge is at Dunns Bridge, at a point 16 miles upstream of the end of the wilderness portion of the gorge. Dunns Bridge is the put-in for the Taos Box. This Class 4+ (5 in highwater) section is 16 miles long, making for a long one-day rafting trip, and is the most challenging whitewater raft trip that is commercially available in New Mexico. The Rio Grande Gorge High Bridge, west of Taos, spans the Gorge four miles below Dunn's Bridge.
The “Box” (short for "box canyon") has long sections of continuous whitewater, especially in its last four miles. This final four-mile section begins with the notorious Powerline Falls, where the river drops rapidly down between large basalt boulders. This section continues with rapids called Rock Garden, Boat Reamer, Screaming Left-hand Turn, Enema and so on. The last, and perhaps best, rapid is found at the confluence of the Rio Pueblo de Taos. Called Taos Junction, it is where photos are taken of our rafting guests. This is where the wilderness portion of the Gorge ends. Immediately downstream of Taos Junction Rapid is Taos Junction Bridge, and the take-out for the Taos Box trip. Immediately below the Box the river enters the placid Orilla Verde ("Green Banks") stretch.
Driving time to the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center is one and a half hours from Santa Fe and 30 minutes from Taos. Your car will be left there. Give your car keys to our driver. We will shuttle you to the put-in and return you to the Visitor Center from the take-out.
What makes a rapid hard? It's usually a combination of either steepness, congestion or narrowing. What makes the Rockgarden rapid the hardest in the Taos Box is a combination of steepness and congestion. For its entire length, the Rockgarden is considerably steeper than the average gradient of the river. That means the water moves swiftly through the rapid and develops additional kinetic energy as it does so. But what makes the Rockgarden particularly challenging is congestion i.e. the rocks that, at low water, one must weave around, or, at high water, the holes one must miss. The entry to the rapid is always on the right ("river right", which means the right when one is looking downstream). This is to avoid the Sieve, a bunch of rocks that the river "sieves" through, dominated by the Sieve Rock. Fishhook Rock, named for a sharp hook-like protuberance, sits opposite the Sieve, and the route lies between them. Next, the Soda Fountain Rocks are passed to their left, Camel Rock to its right, Sharkfin Rock to its left, Broach Rock to its right, the Ledge to its left and some final un-named rocks to their right. In high water most of these rocks are underwater, creating holes of variable difficulty. The Fishhook and Soda Fountain holes can be run, but Camel Rock is to be avoided. Because of the sharp drop on its downstream side, Camel Rock, when underwater, creates a nasty hole called the Trench. The Trench will "taco" (fold) a raft, and send people flying, or worse. It's better to be more to the right, to avoid the Trench, and risk running the Sharkfin Hole, which is big, but not so abrupt. Broach Rock is no problem in high water, nor are the remaining rocks below. The main challenge of the Rockgarden, in low water, is to avoid getting, first, broached, and then wrapped, on a rock. The former means getting stuck sideways against a rock, and the latter means having the raft get bent around the rock and filled with water. The main challenge in high water is to avoid the biggest holes, which can flip or trap a boat, or eject people into the river. The Rockgarden gets your guide's attention at every water level, and is considered the crux rapid of the run. Thanks to Jesse Mogler for this photo of the Rockgarden.