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.

These basalt rocks are derived from the lava flows that the Rio Grande has cut through, in excavating the Rio Grande Gorge. Here, the river follows a very large systems of faults which, together, form the Rio Grande Rift. In New Mexico, this rift stretches north to south from the Colorado border, in the north, to the Texas border, in the south. It is these faults that spewed out the lava that covers much of this area. This north-central part of the state is now contained in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico, which makes us very proud. The Rio Grande Gorge is the centerpiece of the Monument, and it is neighbored by volcanic cones that stand above the flat lava-covered plateau, with herds of bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn antelope and deer that graze there. The gorge also provides nesting habitat for raptors such as the golden eagle and peregrine and prairie falcons, while a winter retreat for bald eagles. One will see beaver, muskrats and even otters in the river, along with plenty of waterfowl, including wintering flocks of canada geese, goldeneyes, buffleheads, widgeons and gadwalls. And one can catch brown and rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, northern pike and carp in the river.

Here are some of the critters mentioned above, all photographed along the Rio Grande.

Otter

Bald eagle

Mule deer

Coyote

Beaver

Bighorn sheep

What else? Well, of course, there is world-class whitewater available in the summer months, which includes the Taos Box run (and Taos Junction Rapid) that carries you 16 miles through the wilderness of the Rio Grande Gorge. Come visit us summer or winter!

Taos Box

Fall Along the Rio Grande, 2017

Fall colors, bighorn sheep, brown trout and beautiful days! All photos were taken in September, October and November of this year.

It is the riverside cottonwoods that provide most of the color at this time of year. The Spanish word “bosque” means riverside grove of trees.

The Bosque stretch

The Bosque stretch

The Bosque stretch

The Bosque is a “float” stretch, which passes by our riverside headquarters. In 2018, we will be offering a 3-mile long dinner float that will end at our cottonwood-shaded barbecue and dining area, beside a tranquil stretch of the Rio Grande.

At our landing – the destination of our Bosque float. Kathy Miller, NWR Pres., is seen in a funyak.

Lone Juniper CG, in the Orilla Verde stretch of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Rio Bravo CG, in the Orilla Verde stretch

For the first time in memory, a large group of bighorn sheep spent a number of weeks along the river, road and campgrounds in the Orilla Verde stretch. As can be seen, they did not at all mind the close approach of people and slowly moving cars.

Bighorn sheep ram, Orilla Verde

Bighorn sheep ewe, Orilla Verde

Bighorn sheep lamb, Orilla Verde

The lower and clearer waters of this time of year makes for good trout fishing. My favorite fish is the self-sustaining brown trout, which, although originally brought over from Europe, is not now stocked.

Brown Trout, Orilla Verde

Brown trout, caught on an outlandish-looking grasshopper imitation, Orilla Verde

NWR raft and fishing guide Todd Emerson, Orilla Verde

NWR raft and fishing guide Todd Emerson and his drift boat, Orilla Verde

Fall is over when the wintering bald eagles and diving ducks return (which include goldeneyes, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks and mergansers). Other waterfowl seen are the year-round mallards, Canada geese (some of which are year-round) and an occasional gadwall.

Bald eagle, along the Racecourse stretch

Goldeneye ducks, along the Orilla Verde stretch

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!

Wild Roses Along the Racecourse

Wild Roses Along the Racecourse. It’s that time of year again, when the wild roses bloom along the Racecourse. Their fragrance beats domesticated roses hands down.

Wild roses, at the County Line take-out.

Wild roses, at the County Line take-out.

The apache plume are also blooming, and the canyon grape is leafing out. The flow is 1200 cfs, and will very likely continue to rise. Here’s another photo,  that is a real puzzler.

This is a basalt boulder that is found along Hwy 68. within a quarter-mile of the County Line take-out. See discussion that follows.

This is a basalt boulder that is found along Hwy 68. within a quarter-mile of the County Line take-out. See discussion that follows.

This boulder consists of separate, individual, lava flows. Here, the boulder sits in such a way that the oldest flow layer seen in the boulder faces up (the layer to the left). The individual flows incorporated into the boulder include one whose upper surface is decorated with a swirl pattern, which pattern was created as the lava slowed down and eddied, before hardening. This patterned surface acted as a mold, when it was covered by a subsequent flow. The lowermost surface of that overlying flow is a cast from that mold. The reddish rock surface, in the center, is the cast of the flow pattern found on the surface of the older flow (hidden from view).

Birds of the Box, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Birds of the Box, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  Birds love rivers! Some birds eat fish, some eat insects that hatch out of the river, some eat subsurface insects, and some eat river-grown vegetation.

GBH_1121

You know what the Great Blue Heron eats – everything that moves!

Dipper_0362

This is an American Dipper, or Water Ouzel. It dives to the bottom, where it probes for invertebrates, like the nymphs that fly fishermen imitate.

AmericanDipper_0199

This nest has been used by ouzels for decades! As can be seen, it’s located within splashing range of some whitewater. Guess the name of that whitewater! Yep, it’s Ouzel Rapid.

_DSC8515

The Black-crowned night heron comes out during the day, as well as at night.

_DSC8472

Is this a Canadian goose … or a Canada goose.? He (or she) is the latter. They are also known as “honkers”. They eat grass.

_DSC8431

What are these American cliff swallows up to? Well … they build spherical mud houses under overhangs. Here they’ve been disturbed, while gathering mud.

_DSC7742

One of the prettiest birds you’ll see along the river – the Western tanager. But you have to be looking for them at the right time of the year. They are springtime migrants, using the Rio as a migration route.

These wonderful photos are by Britt Runyon, Operations Mgr. of NWRCo. He guides the Box all summer, and is never without his Nikon DSLR and 300mm telephoto lens. Nice work, huh?

Cast of Lava Flow Pattern

Cast of Lava Flow Pattern. Appearing in yesterday’s blog was a photo of a basalt boulder, showing a preserved lava flow pattern. Basalt is the name given to the rock that forms from a very common type of lava. Basaltic lava is called “pahoehoe” in Hawaii. It flows with the consistency of pancake batter, and preserves flow patterns when it hardens. The pattern seen in this boulder is in fact a “cast”. It was formed when lava flowed over a hardened prior flow that had a preserved flow pattern on its surface. This pattern constituted the “mold”. Ultimately, the boulder broke in such a way as to reveal the cast.

Cast of lava flow pattern

Cast of lava flow pattern

RopyFlowWITHTEXT#7'89TDSim.04

Solidified flow pattern in what is called “ropy lava”