New Mexico White Water Rafting
On a fun vacation to Northern New Mexico, we signed up for a white water rafting trip down the Rio Grande with New Mexico River Adventures because they seemed to offer the widest variety of trips and a number of ways to get down the river from kayaks to paddleboards to rafts. Based on the river flow, we were going to raft the Rio Grande River which is the fifth largest river in North America and it’s a vital liquid artery the begins at the Colorado Divide in the rugged 14,000′ San Juan mountains, snakes its way through New Mexico and into Texas, and forms the border of Texas and New Mexico before flushing itself into the Gulf of Mexico – a trip of nearly 2000 miles.
We signed up with New Mexico River Adventures to raft a stretch of the Rio Grande called the Race Course which has 12 Class 2 and Class 3 rapids. When we rafted the Race Course in August which is considered low water season, the river was running about 310 cubic feet per second – which is not real high or real low and provides for a fun trip where you’ll get a little wet, bounce off several rocks, need to fiercely paddle through some stretches, can jump in and swim or casually drift down some portions of the river, and may get hung up on a rock or two. Recent rains had increased the flow a little more than normal for August, but it also turned what is normally a crystal clear river into a light brown. At higher water levels, the Race Course gets tricky and very technical to navigate with several Class 4 rapids.
Before we jumped in the shuttle van, we were fitted with a helmet and life jacket and were given a short safety lesson on rafting and what to do if we flipped or fell out of the raft. And then we had a short drive upriver to our put in spot. Small world, like most of the other people we met during our two weeks in Northern New Mexico, the couple we would be rafting with were from North Texas!
It didn’t take long to unload the raft, slip it into the river, and off we went down the Rio Grande Race Course. We got to experience some calm water as well as some fun rapids. One of the stretches of rapids is three quarters of a mile long and each of the rapids have names, most of which describe the rapids – for example:
The Narrows – is a fun run and as you might expect the river narrows and picks up speed as it traverses down river past the boulders thru challenging rocks and boulders named Hemorrhoid and Mother F….. and son of Mother F….., which you’re likely to yell if the river is really flowing fast and you hit these guys
The Maze and Eye of the Needle – you need to paddle your way through these minefields of boulders that create some fun rapids and a bumpy and bouncy ride
Big Rock – which is home to the Pilot, Co-pilot, and Toilet Bowl and will toss you round and round, suck you in, and you’ll hope you’ll get flushed out
Baby Huey – we bounced off this 360 ton boulder which crashed it’s way down a steep mountain across the highway and into the river in 1991, bringing with it several other huge boulders that create another fun ride through the rapids
If you get lucky during your raft trip you might spot some of the wildlife that hangs out in the area including pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, cougar, bighorn sheep, bobcats, eagles, hawks, and falcons. We saw some falcons, birds and ducks, and a mother horse and her young colt.
For sure you’ll get to see some amazing scenery as you float down the Rio Grande – local floral and fauna, a variety of unusual rock formations, mountains and mesas, and lots of interesting geological formations.
On one of the rapids, there is a New Mexico River Adventures photographer sitting on the bank to take some pictures of you rafting through a stretch of rapids – here are some from our trip.
A little over half way through our rafting trip, Wendy beached our raft on a sandy stretch of the river for a snack, swimming, and potty break – all three of which were welcomed. Wendy set up a portable table and laid out some Oreo’s, chips and salsa, fresh fruit, lemonade, and more. And all too soon after our brief break we beached the raft at our take out spot and headed back to our cars. Really hated to see this fun trip end!!!
A large part of what makes the raft trip down the Rio Grande a blast is your raft guide and our guide,Wendy, was outstanding. She was very passionate about the River, well informed on the geology and wildlife, and knew a lot about the history of the area. And she was eager to part with some very interesting and informative facts whenever she wasn’t issuing orders to “stroke forward,” “back three and be ready for a bump,” “next up we need to …..,” etc. – all of which got us involved in actively navigating through the rapids and made the trip more fun and exciting. By the end of the trip, Wendy had us well trained and working as a team and the four of us felt like we had contributed a lot to helping Wendy navigate through the rapids and minefield of boulders – I was expecting a “Certified & Well Trained Oarsman” award at the end of the trip. I was also confident that with Wendy as our leader, we could have out paddled any of the other rafters heading down the river.
Wendy didn’t really need our help, she is an excellent raftswomen (is that the correct term?) and in fact Wendy is well regarded in the area for her knowledge, great personality, and accomplishments. She had just completed a single handed 340 mile 72 hour canoe race in Missouri, one of the most challenging in the world and she finished in 6th place! Wendy was getting ready for the Texas Water Safari which is The Worlds Toughest Canoe Race. In addition to the length of 260 miles from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Gulf Coast some of the challenges include whitewater rapids, multiple portages, time restrictions (four days and four hours), and the relentless, soul-sapping Texas heat.
What I think separates New Mexico River Adventures from the rest of the river outfitters are their guides and their passion for the river. Wendy and Matthew are the owners of New Mexico River Adventures and they are committed to making sure that your adventure with them is fun, safe, exciting, and memorable. And they have built a team of guides that is knowledgeable, personable, and well informed with information about the river, history, and geology.
New Mexico River Adventures offers half day, full day, and multi day trips down various stretches of the Rio Grande and Rio Chama. There are trips suitable for thrill seekers to families with small kids. And based on the water flow you can raft, paddle board, or try a kayak.
Wendy and Matthew also own and operate Global Descents, a premier international expedition company and they can take you on trips on the aqua blue wave trains of the Rio Futaleufu in Patagonia, the unsurpassed warm whitewater of the Zambezi River in Zambia, or a trip through the Rio Apurimac the gem of the Andes.