River Rafting on the Rio Grande

There are few thrills to compete with the pulse-racing excitement of whitewater rafting and there are few places to equal the Rio Grande for raging rapids and spectacular beauty. Whether you’re an experienced rafter who relishes the ultimate in white-knuckle rides or a novice happy to enjoy gently drifting down more tranquil waters, the Rio Grande offers something for everyone.

Rafting the Rio Grande provides a great opportunity to appreciate both the power and wonder of nature. As you are carried along on surging waves, the towering walls of the Rio Grande Gorge rise up alongside the river, lined with ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Eagles circle overhead while the dramatic landscape is home to a wide variety of wildlife including beavers, elk, deer and mountain lions.

River sections like the Taos Box and the Racecourse boast rapids with such enigmatic names as Ski Jump, Lemonade, Sleeping Beauty and Souse Hole. And although water levels are not at their highest at present, the Rio Grande still promises rafters a memorable ride, according to Steve Harris, owner of one of the many companies offering rafting trips and an activist with Rio Grande Restoration, a non-profit river advocacy organization. “At high water you have big waves and big boats to crash through the big waves. In contrast, at lower water you have rocks and channels and we run smaller boats to run through these little chutes, so it’s a different sort of experience.” But an equally exhilarating one, he adds.

One of the results of the slightly lower water levels in the Rio Grande is that the irrigation dams on the Rio Chama, a designated wilderness section of the river, are releasing more water, “making this more or less ideal conditions on the Rio Chama,” according to Harris. Flowing through majestic sandstone canyons, the Chama offers some of New Mexico’s most remote and pleasurable rafting as it makes its way through a striking landscape captured so atmospherically by painter Georgia O’Keefe.

Designated by congress the first Wild and Scenic River, the Rio Grande offers sights to make rafting a wondrous experience. Whiterock Canyon is but one example, with its basalt walls soaring 1500 feet above the river, dotted with ancient rock carvings and the Anasazi Indian ruins. And while the New Mexico scenery provides a stunning backdrop, it’s that Wild aspect of the river that draws millions of thrill seekers. Whether navigating it in a large craft or the smaller, aptly named, funyaks, a rafting trip down Rio Grande promises an adventure of a lifetime.

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