Rio Chama - 03. Los Ojos to El Vado Lake

Rio Chama, New Mexico, US


03. Los Ojos to El Vado Lake

Usual Difficulty I-III (for normal flows)
Length 15 Miles

Looking upstream from Big Mama Chama scout

Looking upstream from Big Mama Chama scout
Photo taken 05/22/10 @ high runnable

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-08284100 400 - 4000 cfs I-III 00h40m 49.3 cfs (too low)

River Description

This is a great run. The river goes through a nice canyon and there are no roads or river access for much of it. There are many huge boulders in the river channel and some great play along the way. There is a tricky putin in the town of La Puente but I recommend putting in at the NM 95 bridge as there is better parking and less chance of trouble in a very tiny town..... The takeout is at a boat launch on the north end of El Vado Reservoir and comes after a long flatwater paddle out. I would recommend taking out at a fishing access point (under the footbridge) and following a steep but relatively short path up the canyon wall. This take out is just upstream of the Heron Reservoir Dam. You really don't miss much from the alternate takeout to the "official" one, except some boring flatwater.
The shuttle route is rather strange. You start on one side of the river and make a U-turn over it and come down on the other side to reach the takeout. For information, see New Mexico Whitewater, by NM State Parks, & Rivers of the SW, by Fletcher Anderson. For more beta, check out Boating Waters, by NM State Parks.





StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-07-15 04:18:35


Rapid Descriptions

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User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 5 2015 (1293 days ago)
Carla MinerDetails
Reported 5/5/15 by Barry Weinstock - I've meant to head out to this section of the Rio Chama for a
long time. We went out a few days ago and this is a beautiful section of river and we had a very
nice day. This section has a short runnable window each year, after which it diminishes to pools
separated by cobble bars. For most of this section there are occasional wire fences rolled up on
the bank. These are stretched across the river bed at low flow times. A couple of miles downstream
of the Highway 95 put in there is a gravel pit on river left. After the pit, there is a house on
river left. Next to the house we encountered a fence that had not been taken down. The water was at
3.8 feet (~1,100 cfs) and two strands of barbed wire were ~10 and 14 inches from the surface above
swift current. Fortunately, my buddy has better eyesight than me and we were able to pull over.
There are eddies on either side of the river. On the right side, we passed our inflatable over a
locked farm gate. The left side is barbed wire. Wonderful section -- glad we did it and will do it
again. Keep your eyes peeled.
May 22 2013 (2005 days ago)
tims (150674)
Ran it on 5/4 at about 750cfs. Saw three elk just before the canyon starts. Ran all the way down to
El Vado. There is a low head dam at the USGS La Puente guage, but it has a dip on the right hand
side that lets more water through. I've run it from 450 -2000 cfs and never had a problem on the
right where the dip is. I think it actually makes a nice front surf spot (it's too shallow to do
much of anything, and I don't recommend flipping) First time I haven't had to paddle across the
lake. The "No Wake" buoy was in a wave train caused by the river. If the gate is open you can take
out near the boat ramp or a little past it. Otherwise it's probably better to hike out at the
fishing bridge, but good luck negotiating the stair landings with a canoe. When I ran it a long
time ago with my 14' boat it wouldn't fit. I talked to the folks at the USGS about the private
property sign by the gauging station. They said that a fair number of the gauges are on private
property. They sent me this link to a blm map showing what land belongs to the public and what's
May 16 2011 (2743 days ago)
Did this run on May 14 2011, overall this great run. It was fence and wood free from the put in to
the fisherman's bridge takeout. Level was around 1600cfs. Took about 2.5 hours for us to run
straight through without stopping to scout or eat. Lots of nature to see and the scenery is quite
different than the Monastery to Big Eddy section of the Rio Chama. Found this section to be a bit
easier than Monastery to Big Eddy.

First few miles, before the gravel pit, there several shallow spots that are easily avoidable. Only
other notable hazard is a very short low head dam, you will hear it before you see it. Possible to
skirt it on either side due it's it's very short and stubby nature. Big Mamma Chama was a long rock
garden, maybe solid III at 1600cfs. A few more thousand CFS would make it a stout rapid. Otherwise
the rest of the rapids were mellow class II / III wave trains. I would recommend that everyone do
this run at least once as it is all natural flow and only runs a few weeks out of the season. I
personally would not want to run it any lower than 1400cfs because I do not like to paddle flat
water. Although I am sure it is possible to run it lower than 1400cfs.

Shuttle is straight forward if you take out at the fisherman's bridge, recommended unless you like
long flat water paddling.

Visual Guage Height Beta:
The waterline at the put in was almost at the point where the steel bridge support meets the
concrete on the east most pylon. The center Bridge support had a small pillow on it. Should be
around 1600cfs or so.

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