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New Wave Rafting New Mexico Whitewater Rafting
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New Wave Rafting Blog

Whitewater Rafting in Northern New Mexico


Category: Nature

Nature along the Rio Grande. We show photos of wildlife and nature found along the Rio Grande. The wildlife we see includes otters and bighorn sheep. And we also see muskrats, beavers, hawks, songbirds, kingfishers, herons, and deer  The Rio Grande also has very interesting geology. The river runs through a gorge of volcanic rock in the Taos Box and Monument Float sections. In the Racecourse section, the river runs between a quartzite cliff on one side and volcanic mesas on the other.

Coyote on the ice, Rio Grande, NM
Coyote on the ice, Rio Grande, NM

Cholla Cactus Blooms Along the Rio Grande, NM

The cholla cactus blooms along the Rio Grande

Early June is when it happens. The cholla cactus blooms, transforming a menacing large cactus into a marvel! This cactus was photographed on 6/8/18, alongside the Rio Grande, in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. New Wave Rafting Co travels this stretch of river in both its New Wave No Wave half-day float and its Monument full-day float. Do you want to do a sunset float? Just ask!

The Rio Chama, Summer, 2018

Our other river is the Rio Chama, the next drainage to the west of the Rio Grande. It joins the Rio Grande at Española, just 20 miles to the south of our headquarters in Embudo. But it is remarkably unlike the Rio Grande in so far as its scenery is concerned. The Rio Grande runs along the Rio Grande Rift, which is responsible for the lava flows that have blanketed the Taos Plateau. The Rio Grande Gorge is cut into those grey and black flows.

The Rio Grande in Rocks

Just downstream of Taos Junction Rapid, on the Rio Grande of northern New Mexico, is a group of basalt rocks that, at high water, are vigorously washed by strong currents. The sediment carried by the high water sculpts and polishes these rocks. To my eye, the sculpting of the rocks model the river’s waves, while the polish on the rocks model the river’s gleam.

Bighorn Sheep and Channel Fill

Bighorn Sheep and a “channel fill” are seen in this arresting photo by Britt Runyon (below), taken in the Taos Box portion of the Rio Grande Gorge. “What’s a channel fill?”, you say?

OK, I’ll explain. But first, I need to discuss the geologic history of the Rio Grande Gorge. In this part of gorge, the Rio Grande is incised into a succession of lava flows, one sitting atop the other, like a layer cake – and I’ve counted as many as 7 different layers in that cake. Before these lava flows began, let’s suppose that the Rio Grande was running through a valley, as rivers do. The first lava flow into that valley dammed up the river, causing a lake to form behind the dam. When the lake rose to the height of the lava dam, its waters began to spill out and meander over the surface of the lava flow. Depending on the amount of time that elapsed between the over-topping of the lava dam and the arrival of the second flow, the Rio Grande would (with less time) have  cut a channel into the flow, and (with more time) cut a gorge. This same process would have repeated with the arrival of each new lava flow. The Rio finally had the opportunity to cut down more fully through that stack of layers once the lava flows stopped coming.

So, what about that channel fill? In the upper part of the photo, four Bighorn sheep are seen standing on a tan layer of rock, that looks nothing like the basalt rocks seen above and to the side (when hardened, this kind of lava is called basalt). That tan rock is, in fact, hardly rock at all. It’s dirt! And how did it get there? It’s sediment that collected in a stream channel that ran across the surface of a lava flow. The part of the channel seen in the photo narrows to the right side, being a partial cross-section of the entire channel. And then what happened? Down came another lava flow, which capped that channel fill, preserving it for all time. Additionally, the molten lava that covered over the channel fill baked that material, giving it a reddish cast.

Channel fills like the one seen here are seen elsewhere, and at different levels, in the walls of the gorge, being situated upon the top of one flow or another. They really stick out, and once you know what you’re looking for, you begin to recognize them.

Bighorn sheep and channel fill
Channel fill at the base of a basalt cliff
Channel fill at top of cliff (“X”), staining the rocks below
Channel fill (“X”)

See Bighorn Sheep in the Taos Box

See Bighorn Sheep in the Taos Box. Many bighorn sheep, with newborn lambs, were seen on our Taos Box raft trip of 5-20-17. The sheep come to river-side at this time of the year to graze on the new grass and other vegetation just now showing up. There may be no better way to come into such close contact with these magnificent wild critters, which may be a better reason for running the Box than the whitewater itself!

Baby Bighorn sheep of the Rio Grande.
Lamb, Taos Box run, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico. Photo by Britt Runyon, 5-20-17
Bighorn sheep of the Taos Box.
For these wild creatures, there’s safety in numbers. Photo by Britt Runyon.

But, while speaking of the whitewater – it’s not too shabby right now! We are having, at the moment, very exciting rafting on the Rio Grande, and we anticipate yet more exciting rafting as, in the next month, the river rises to levels that exceed what we’ve seen so far this season. It’s been chilly this spring, leaving plenty of snow still in the mountains … and that snow will start melting in earnest when hot weather finally arrives (temps in the 80s). The first week in June is when the big melt usually hits, and that is just around the corner.

We’re expecting the Rio to exceed 4000 cfs, and perhaps much more than that, at the peak of run-off. Levels at or beyond 4000 cfs make the Taos Box a white knuckles non-stop roller-coaster ride, and bring the Racecourse up to Class IV difficulty. You will not forget your run through Souse Hole (on the Racecourse) at that level! And you will be insisting that your friends look at the photos of you in either Taos Junction Rapid (the Taos Box) or Souse Hole, on the Racecourse.

Call us now, and mention this blog post to receive a 10% discount on any trip. Adventure awaits!

Photos and video by Britt Runyon, NWRCo guide and photographer extraordinaire!

High Water and Rising, May 11, 2017

Souse Hole run, on the Racecourse, Rio Grande

High Water and Rising, May 11, 2017. The Rio Grande was running at 3400 cfs yesterday, May 11, 2017. Today it is at 3600 cfs, and continuing to rise. This is an exciting level, and makes the normally Class III Racecourse a Class IV run. Here is a shot of a New Wave raft at Souse Hole Rapid (on the Racecourse) being captained by veteran guide and NWRCo Operations Manager Britt Runyon Huggins. In the raft are two guests (from the English island of Guernsey), along with two of our Guide Training Program participants. Those participants are being joined on the river right now by our returning guides, who are doing required re-training for high water (over 3000 cfs).

2017 Run-off Will Be Well Above Average

2017 Run-off Will Be Well Above Average!

Run-off is predicted to be between 110% and 149% at various spots in the Rio Grande drainage of southern Colorado. See the light-blue and dark-blue circles in south-central Colorado. The peak is usually in early June – that’s when you want to run the Taos Box! Our 2017 season begins on April 15. Join our Taos Box trip scheduled for that day.