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

Funyak Season Arrives on the Rio Grande, July 1, 2017

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.

Funyak, on the Racecourse in typical mid-summer conditions

Funyakking the Racecourse

One of our smaller rafts, on the Racecourse

Double funyak on the Racecourse section of the Rio Grande

Swimming a little fast water at After Five, photo by Jeff Heveron

Allison and her dad in a double funyak

Funyak negotiates Big Rocks Rapid, on the Racecourse

A gaggle of funyakers?

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”)

Opening Day in the Taos Box, March 2017

Opening Day in the Taos Box, March 2017

The Taos Box team for opening day.

The video found below was taken on New Wave Rafting’s first Taos Box whitewater adventure of the 2017 season.

The Taos Box (short for “box canyon”) is the premier run on the Rio Grande – 16 miles in a vertically-walled wilderness gorge, with challenging rapids (Class 4+) guaranteed to get you wet. It is in the top rank of one-day wilderness whitewater trips in the country, and is included in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico. And, by the way, we haven’t seen high water on the Box for quite some time, and believe that this will be the year when the run-off hits record or near record levels. How much water is that? In rafting parlance, that’s about 8000 cubic feet a second (cfs). Imagine the amount of water contained in 8000 boxes that are twelve inches on a side, going by in a second’s time. Or, 8 times the amount of water seen in the video below!! And the next question is, of course, when will that run-off start in earnest? Generally, the run-off peaks in the first week of June, but we’re betting that the river will stay very high throughout the month. In preparation for that, we’re getting our BIG boats out – our 16 footers – that can handle the very big waves we expect to see, such as in the photo below:

Powerline Falls in the Taos Box in high water

Don’t fail to watch this video of opening day on the Box. You’re just gonna love these guys. They are SO into it. Of course, that’s typical of our customers, who just cannot get enough. Are you that kind of person? Then what are you waiting for?

Make your reservations at:
http://www.newwaverafting.com/
Or call:  800-984-1444

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.

Snowpack percentages

Snowpack percentages

Powerline Falls in the Taos Box in high water

Powerline Falls in the Taos Box in high water

Back to the Box

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? The Taos Box run is 16 miles of wilderness gorge, positioned in the heart of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, which has been set aside to preserve the land and riverscape of the Rio Grande Gorge of northern New Mexico.

We also have a boatload of guide trainees on the Racecourse run. Summer and whitewater action is here!!

Dead Car rapid, in the Taos Box

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