When the Rio Grande drops below 600 cfs (cubic feet per second) we pull out our smaller rafts and our funyaks. While we will miss the Taos Box, which. because it is so steep and rocky, requires more than 600 cfs, we look forward to the fun of funyaks and our sport fleet. “Does the lower water level make the river easier?”, you may ask. Well … yes and no. The lower water is safer, in that you are not being rushed pell-mell downstream if you fall in. The water is warm and clear now , as well – 65 degrees warm as of 7-1-17 – making it much more fun for swimming. Yes, we do a lot of swimming during this part of our season. But the “no” part of the answer is that, while we have fewer big waves in the Rio, the lower water has allowed more rocks to break the surface – and we now have to maneuver around those exposed rocks. This makes the river more “technical” – meaning more rafting/funyakking technique is required. Either on the part of the guide, who may be shouting paddling commands at you, one after the other, or on your part, as you dodge between the rocks. Of course, everything else being equal, a funyak can thread the passages with greater ease than a raft. And, funyaks are more much stable and user-friendly than regular hard kayaks. We rent funyaks for 4 hr. unguided trips on the Class 2 Orilla Verde stretch, with shuttle included, and we provide funyaks on our regular trips at no extra cost, but you have to request them beforehand. Are you handy? Then you can likely handle a funyak.
Out of the Raft at Sunset Rapid, Taos Box, Rio Grande, New Mexico
Taos Junction Rapid (aka Sunset Rapid) ends the Taos Box run on the Rio Grande, in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. It’s called Taos Junction Rapid because it’s just upstream of Taos Junction Bridge – this bridge having been named for the reason that it connected Taos and the Taos Junction station on the Chili Line, a narrow-gauge railway that once ran west of the gorge. Also, it’s located at the “junction” of a major tributary – Taos Creek – and the Rio Grande, Taos Creek being the source of the boulders that make the rapid.
Many folks ask about what happens if you fall out of the raft. My typical answer is that we usually find you. But, to be serious, the following movie shows a good example of how we get you back. Points to notice: the guest did not let go of her paddle, which she could extend back to the raft to help pull her over; she got on her back with feet up to fend off rocks; she positioned herself next to the boat so that she could be pulled back in on her back, which is much easier than trying to pull her in on her stomach; it didn’t take long to get to her and get her back in – usually the water calms down after a rapid making it easier to chase after a “swimmer”. Watch it now!
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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.
“The Salt River, a Photo Journey and Visual Guide” , by Steve Miller, joins “The Grand, the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, a Photo Journey and Visual Guide, together showcasing Arizona’s two most sought-after river trips. Like the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, the Salt River is unique. The 52-mile trip down the Salt River combines exciting whitewater and spectacular scenery in a Sonoran desert setting, which most notably includes Arizona’s spectacular saguaro cactus. At the heart of the trip is the 32,000 acre Salt River Canyon Wilderness, where, in the Jump Off Canyon section, one finds the most challenging whitewater and most awe-inspiring scenery. With almost 500 photos, annotated maps and 17 movies of rapids, everything of interest is shown: Class 2-4 rapids, spring wildflowers, cacti of all sorts, side canyons and swimming holes, sculpted and polished rocks, potholes, ripple-marked slabs, gorges of white granite and dark metamorphic rock, wildlife, campsites, waterfalls, indian ruins, every rock layer that the river has carved through, spectacular vistas, mileages, historical information, environmental concerns and more.
Steve Miller earlier published “The Grand, the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, a Photo Journey and Visual Guide”, also an iBook. With 364 pages, this book covers the 297 miles of the trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and below, to a take-out on Lake Mead. Both books share the same format, showing and describing, through photos, movies, and text, everything of interest on and along the two rivers. A 3rd edition of this book is now (June 2017) close to release. Don’t miss it!
Steve Miller is the VP of New Wave Rafting Co, located on the Rio Grande, near Taos, NM. New Wave Rafting Company provides half-day and full-day trips on the Rio Grande, ranging in difficulty from Class 2 – 4, and full-day and 3-day trips on the nearby Rio Chama. The Rio Chama is a tributary of the Rio Grande, but is located in an area of scenic beauty quite unlike that of the Rio Grande. This colorful sandstone area has been made famous in the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, and many Westerns are shot on and along this river.
Powerline Falls with Kathy, June 5, 2017. Powerline Falls is the most unforgettable and photogenic rapid on the Taos Box section of the Rio Grande, located in the heart of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Kathy is the President of New Wave Rafting Company, and she likes to keep her hand in! After all, she’s only 66 years of age … Here, she is seen rowing the “chase boat” – an additional boat sent along as a back-up boat, on what would otherwise be a single boat Taos Box trip. In these photos, the river is running at about 2700 cubic feet a second, which is a very bouncy level. At this moment (June 7, 2017), the river continues to rise, as the newly-arrived warmth accelerates the snowmelt in the headwaters (the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, uphill of the former mining town of Creede). Who knows how high it will get this season? We’re all guessing.
This series of photos is by Britt Runyon, the Operations Manager at New Wave Rafting Company. He manages to both guide his raft and take top notch photos!
What else does Kathy do? Well, besides her duties with New Wave, she is the Chief of our local (Dixon, NM) volunteer fire department, which keeps her pretty busy. She just recently earned her badge as an Emergency Medical Responder, since so many of the calls that the Fire Dep’t receives are for medical emergencies (more than for fires). And in the winter she is a ski instructor at Taos Ski Valley. And what is she doing at this very minute? She’s picking cherries!
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!
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!
Racecourse High Water, May, 18 2017. Our friends from Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, returned for a Racecourse trip, and enjoyed high water … and cool temps! They, of course, survived. The river is running at 3300 cfs today, making the Racecourse a Class 4 run.
We expect the river to continue rising, what with the fact that it is still snowing in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado! When will it peak?, everyone is asking. Well, normally, I would say the first week of June, but since the climate started getting quirky, it’s anybody’s guess.
I got to leave the office and take some pix of the group. Hope you like them!