Rio Grande, New Mexico, US
|Usual Difficulty||III (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||12 fpm|
|RIO GRANDE BLW TAOS JUNCTION BRIDGE NEAR TAOS, NM|
|usgs-08276500||250 - 2500 cfs||III||01h12m||172 cfs (too low)|
This is the standard intermediate roadside run on the Rio Grande with a short shuttle and good access making it a favorite for all craft types. This section can be divided into two runs: Orilla Verde and Racecourse (aka Pilar).
Orilla Verde: Taos Junction Bridge to Quartzite Access
Here the Rio Grande flows for approimately 6 miles characterized by class II whitewater through the Orilla Verde Recreation Area within Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. This reach has seven campgrounds, two group shelters, boat launches, picnic tables, grills, drinking water, and restrooms offering plenty of options for a base camp when exploring the watershed. A visitor center is located in Pilar, at the intersection of NM 570 and NM 68.The reach starts at Taos Junction Bridge, the confluence of the Rio Pueblo with the Rio Grande and the take-out for the Lower Taos Box section of the Rio Grande. The easier whitewater makes this section popular for beginners or those who want a longer trip that continues down the Racecourse section.
Please observe the Pilar Quiet Zone through the village of Pilar that comes at the end of this segment.
Racecourse (aka Pilar): Quartzite Access to County Line Access
Many paddlers just start their run on the Racecourse section that has approximately 5 miles of intermediate class III whitewater at flows below 1000 cfs. The name for this segment comes from the annual Mother's Day Race.
The action starts to pick up above 1000 cfs with 2000 cfs considered a solid level. At flows above 3000 cfs, Alberts is a mandatory scout due to a large river-wide hole and the run is generally considered class IV. Depending on your craft, you may also find inadequate clearance under Glen Woody Bridge requiring a portage. At high water, everything is pretty continuous with big random holes and waves, except for Big Rocks, which washes out on the right channel. Souse can be easily avoided at any level as long as you hug the left bank. The most popular playspot is between Big Rocks and Souse, called Sleeping Beauty. It plays better river right of the stack.
Logistics: The standard take-out is at County Line River Access (the Taos County and Rio Arriba County border) at Hwy 68 mile 24.0. An intermediate access, that divides the Orilla Verde and Racecourse segments, is available at Quartzite at NM 68 mile 28.2 for a short run. For the full run continue upstream to Pilar and at NM 68 mile 28.8 turn on to NM 570 that continues up river left. You will enter the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and find several BLM Campgrounds that include Rio Bravo, Arroyo Hondo, Lone Juniper, and Petaca. At mile 6.0 on NM 570 you will reach the Taos Junction Bridge. River access on the downstream river left side of the bridge and camping on river right.
Other runs in the area:
Ute Mountain (Class II),
Razors (Class III/IV),
Upper Box (Class V/V+),
Lower Box (Class III/IV),
Pilar (Class III/IV),
Otowi Bridge (Class III),
Red River (Class IV),
Rio Pueblo (Class V+), and
Rio Embudo (Class V+).
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Quartzite River Access||N/A|
|0.2||Surf or Die||II|
|1.3||Eye of the Needle||III+|
|1.6||Dead Foot Falls||III|
|2.3||Glenn Woody Bridge||N/A|
|4.4||County Line River Access||N/A|
Rocks appearing in the middle of a riffle just down stream of Quartzite River Access. Easily missed on the right. At high enough water the rocks form a nice to hole to get an good initiation splash before continuing downstream.
Enter Saddle Rock left of center. At lower flows the river channelizes on the left and currents push boats into the large rock in the center (slightly submerged in the photo above).
Purportedly named for Albert Einstein in the 1950s by kayakers who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Beginning of a long stretch of whitewater. At moderate to high flows large standing waves make this a rollercoaster ride. At low flows the river channelizes nicely but the typical line swings from river right to river left and them returns to center leaving some tight weaving between rocks.
Shallow section of river where the typical run is left of center during moderate flows. At low flows boaters move from river left to the center of the river down the channel that slips between the two rocks called the Horns (a.k.a. the Fangs).
At low flows a short pool separates the Boulder Field and Dead Foot Falls. The rapid is entered right of center to center, and the typical line slides to left of center and left of the Fang (a.k.a. Nemesis Rock) that's in the center of the river (pictured on the left edge of the image). The current pushes boats into this rock!
The last rapid in the sequence of class III rapids sometimes collectively called the Narrows. At high water (above 2500 cfs) this is the bottom of Mile Long Rapid, the stretch of continuous class IV whitewater starting at Saddle Rock rapids. Final Drop is usually ran down the middle at all flows, with a slight right of center exit at low water. At the bottom of the run out be alert for the huge boulder jutting out from the right shore into the center of the river. Final drop is easily scouted from the road.
Named for the rocky shallows that make-up this rapid, and the potential swim that almost certainly is less like slipping down a water slide and more akin to sliding down a cheese grater. The rapid is usually ran down the middle. At low flows, about halfway down the rapid some weaving to the right and then back to the center, is usually needed. As with any rapid, in Cheese Grater take precautions to avoid foot entrapment if you find yourself swimming. Cheese Grater is easily scouted from a pullout along the road.
Old, dilapidated bridge purportedly build by a commune that lived at the site of the Glenn Woody mine town on river right. Beware of possible fishing lines with hooks still attached that might have been accidentally snagged and dangling from the bridge. At high water the river rises very close to the bottom of the bridge and the bridge must be portaged on left bank.
Big Rocks at moderate to low levels. The Ledge is on the far right and the Slot between the Ledge and Thunderdome Rock (a.k.a. The Big Rock) in the middle. To the left of Thunderdome is the tight pushy drop Toilet Boil (with it's recirculating hole at the bottom). The set-up eddy is bottom left. At moderate to high flows most boaters run the Ledge on river right; at low flows boaters squeeze through the center middle channel called the Slot (don't forget to lowside your raft towards Thunderdome). Toilet Bowl is the pushy left drop (considered class IV). The hydraulic at the bottom can hold rafts that without enough momentum to get free.
Massive boulder that fell from the canyon rim in 1991, punched a large hole in the highway, shattered a riverside boulder making Baby Huey bounce and land on the otherside of the river.
A great playspot for kayakers with a nice pool at the bottom. A steep, sagebrush-packed trail winds from the road down to the pool.
A drop into a big reversal wave. At low water the drop is usually ran down the channel along the right shore; at moderate to high flows preference for how much splash a boater wants determines how the drop is ran; boats without sufficient momentum to punch through the reversal might be in for a surf and a flip! Be mindful of the large boulders at the bottom of the rapid coming off the right shore. This is a favorite surf playspot for kayakers. A trail runs from a pullout alongside the road down the river bank to the rapid. At lower levels Sleeping Beauty becomes a fun surf for rafts. The rapid is easily scouted from the road.
One of the more famous rapids on the run. At low to moderate flows Souse is ran usually down the left channel. Rafts can surf the hole at the bottom of the last drop at low flows. At high flows the rapid creates a near river-wide massive hole renowned for flipping boats. Boaters looking to avoid the huge wave can sneak the rapid along the left shore. At all flows be mindful of currents coming off the left shore that may push your boat too far into the center of the river. A trail comes down from the road to the pool at the bottom of Souse. The rapid is easily scouted from the road.
This rapid is created by the island in the middle of the river just downstream from the pool below Souse Hole. At moderate to low levels the right channel is usually the only channel deep enough to navigate. Near the bottom of the island the river swings left; stay alert for the wrap rock near the right shore at the bottom of the run out.