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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


Tag: Bighorn sheep

Want to see bighorn sheep up close?  They are unafraid of humans, and allow close up observation. This is especially so on the Taos Box run. The Taos Pueblo and State of New Mexico restocked the Rio Grande Gorge with bighorns a number of years ago. There are not many places where you can view bighorn sheep up close. Come and see for yourself! The males gather in the fall of the year to butt horns. This establishes a dominance hierarchy that determines which male gets to breed.

[caption id="attachment_2723" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Bighorn sheep, along the Rio Grande Bighorn sheep[/caption]

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.

“The most wonderful raft trip down the Rio Grande”

Guide Testimonial Britt Runyon, 7/29/17

“On Wednesday Susan and I took the most wonderful raft trip down the Rio Grande south of Taos. Our guide, for the second time, was our friend Britt Runyon, with New Wave Rafting. Britt has such a great love for this area, along with deep knowledge of the plants, animals and the river itself (and is such a great guy), that the trip was a total joy! We highly recommend him and the river itself.”

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!

Back to the Box

Dead Car rapid, in the Taos Box
Dead Car rapid, in the Taos Box. Photo by Britt Runyon

Back to the Box! We’re thrilled to have good flows for our Taos Box run, and have 7 guests there today (along with some Box guide trainees), who will enjoy 80 degree temperatures, bighorn sheep sightings and maybe even see the otters, or golden eagles, or migrating western tanagers … or who knows what?