This is the first of four posts that contain Google Earth maps of four stretches of the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. From upstream to downstream, they are the Taos Box, Orilla Verde Recreation Area, the Racecourse and the Bosque. I have place-marked (yellow pins) these maps to show rapids/points of interest/points of access, and have also provided a number of illustrative photos.
This post concerns the Taos Box. The Taos Box section is included in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
NOTE: the scale varies from map to map. The scale on each map is shown in the lower right corner. RL = river left. RR = river right.
The access to John Dunn Bridge is via Arroyo Hondo, north of Taos.
Not far downstream of the put-in, Black Rock Spring is seen on river-right, but it is inundated at high water. Cool fresh water springs will be seen along the river-left bank as you continue downstream.
Manby Hot Spring is on river-left and the lower pool is inundated at high water. Just downstream, on the right, you’ll see the sawed-off timbers of the Manby Bridge set into a rock abutment. The bridge was washed out in 1921. Ouzel Rapid runs along a cliff, to its right side. The rapid was named for an ouzel nest that has been located on that cliff, just a few feet above the normal water level. Ouzel Beach is found at the foot of the rapid, on the left. Some interesting lava flow patterns are seen in the cliff just across from the beach.
Ski Jump Beach is the only roomy camping spot on the river, with a top rope climbing area found a short distance up the side canyon.
I developed this climbing area for the Outward Bound-type Wilderness Program of the Forensic Treatment System (State of New Mexico), that I created and directed in 1976 and 1977. We would use it as part of a 3-day rafting trip that would start with a hike to the Middle Box put-in.
The High Bridge is 650′ above the river. 3 Forks Rapid is located at the mouth of the canyon of the same name, which enters on river-left. Yellow Bank Rapid was named for the numerous small yellow rafts used by the Los Alamos Explorer Post 20, when they stopped there and scouted along the river-right bank. They were active in the 1960s and 70s, under the direction of Stretch Fretwell, a pioneer of whitewater sport in New Mexico.
The Playground section starts at Yellow Bank and concludes at Dead Car Rapid.
The Playground is named for its many easier rapids, that serve as “play spots” for kayakers. The wrecked motorcycle seen on river-left was pushed off the rim, at the head of the Painted Rock Trail. The Wall Rapid is located at the foot of what appears to be a fault gully that cuts down from the western rim the length of the right slope, to the side of a large cliff. The rapid is named for the high-water big wave located left of center. Below the rapid, note, in the large cliff to the right, the reddish lenses of “channel fills”. These “fills” consist of sediment that was deposited in a river channel that ran over the surface of a solidified lava flow, and which was subsequently capped by a later-arriving lava flow. This latter flow of molten lava baked the sediment, giving it its reddish color. Next up is Boxcar Rapid, which is named for a big rock that fell into the river-right side of the rapid not long ago (see rock in the below photo). Prior to that it was called 60 MPH Rapid, for a road sign stating such, that was erected along the river-left side of the rapid.
After you pass Boxcar Rapid, look back upstream over your left shoulder to spot another seeming fault gully, that cuts, in this case, through the eastern rim, in a downstream direction (see photo below).
It is here, as discussed by Paul Bauer in his indispensable guidebook: “The Rio Grande, A River Guide and Landscapes of Northern New Mexico”, that the canyon widens considerably. He attributes the widening to “landslides”, but makes no mention of faulting and earthquakes as contributing factors. To my (admittedly amateur) eye, the fault (and the earthquakes that were presumably associated with it) that produced that gully could well be responsible for the landslides that begin right here and continue downstream, especially since the orientation of the gully suggests that the fault runs in a downstream direction. Characteristic of the landslide debris are “toreva blocks”, which are large and intact portions of the former rim, which rotated as they slid down in such a manner that their once vertical faces are now angled back. A complete toreva ridge will be seen ahead on the left. Toreva blocks on the right-hand slope are mirror-images of those seen on the left-hand slope. In this lower part of the canyon (and down into the Orilla Verde section), the landslides have descended in so uniform a manner as to create a stair-step effect, such that there is a mid-level bench located between the top of the landslide blocks and the bottom of the upper cliff band. These benches are easily made-out on the maps of segments 2, 3 and 4.
Also in this area, you’ll see, on river-left, large timbers and steel rods that are some of the remains of the washed-out Manby Bridge. Bonifacio Rapid is named for that name, as engraved on a rock on river-right. Dead Dog Bend commemorates a dog that we observed, over a period of days, on the left shore, blinded by a head full of porcupine quills. With the agreement of a veterinarian who just happened to be a guest on our trip, I shot the dog. Scott’s Rock is named for Scott Vollstedt, who flipped in the high-water hole created by that rock. This large rock sits left of center, and opposite the grove of netleaf hackberry trees that is found for a distance along the river-right shore. The Dead Car surfing hole is found directly downhill of the “Dead Car”, which was pushed off the western rim.
A short ways downstream of Powerline Rapid, on a curve to the left, look on the right-hand slope for pieces of a wrecked jet. The main piece of the wreckage will be found a few hundred feet up the slope, deposited on a bouldery bench. There are also pieces of metal and molten aluminum found in the rocks right by the eddy that we usually use.
Ugly Rock is named for its top spike (seen here), which has certainly damaged a raft or two at levels where you can catch on it. The rock also transforms at yet higher water levels into a menacing pour-over/hole.
Kathy’s Cleaver is named for Kathy Miller, who, in higher water, attempted to pass to the right side of the rock, and flipped when her raft was shoved by the current up against it.
Mitch’s Bitch Rock is named for Mitch Smith, who once guided for New Wave Rafting Co. He later died by his own hand.
This rapid was named for both Steve Miller and his son Ethan, after they flipped on successive days in the huge waves that form here in very high water. Thank God Eddy was named such because it was the first place where one could bail out the bucket boats that we used in those days. Screaming Right Rapid lays just around the bend from there.
Not far downstream of Screaming Right is a great surf hole, located right of center. Look for it!
The take-out is on river-left, just past the bridge. In hot weather, watch out for kids jumping off the bridge!