The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo del Norte, as it is known in Mexico, is the most remote river in Texas, and is one of the very few true wilderness trips available in the United States (even though it is really in the Country of Texas!) Flowing through the Texas-Mexico desert, the river offers spectacular views of high mountains, the desert floor, wild animals, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, breathtaking flora and fauna and just about everything except signs of civilization. In many cases, the only people you will see are in your own group.
From its headwaters near Alamosa, Colorado, the Rio Grande flows through New Mexico and down the Texas-Mexico border through Big Bend to Brownsville and the Gulf of Mexico. However, paddling is generally limited to the Taos Box area near Taos, New Mexico, through the Upper Canyons (Colorado, Santa Elena, Mariscal, San Vicente, Hot Springs and Boquillas) starting in Presidio County and ending in Brewster County, Texas or the Lower Canyons (Heath, Horse, Temple, and Maravillas) running from La Linda, Mexico (Brewster County, Texas) down to Dryden Pass in Terrell County, Texas. The Texas sections described in this guide comprise a total of over 300 miles of solitude and communion with Mother Nature.
The land surrounding the Rio Grande is very rugged and unsettled. The nearest major city to any part of the navigable sections is El Paso, located about 250 miles to the west-northwest (Odessa is about 220 miles to the northeast, but that's not really a major city, now is it?) The area can be most inhospitable to those not properly prepared and outfitted. River topography includes everything from low and slow flatwater to fast and furious Class IV whitewater, with the larger rapids mostly located within Santa Elena Canyon (Rock Slide Rapid) and the section known as the Lower Canyons (Hot Springs Rapid, Upper and Lower Madison Falls).
Besides rapids and waterfalls other hazards that could present problems include the hot Texas sun, cold nighttime temperatures, cold water (in winter, when the river is usually flowing at its best for paddling), rattlesnakes, copperheads, mountain lions, black bears, scorpions, javalena, feral hogs and other animate and inanimate things that may have little or no fear of beans - human beans - even canoeists, kayakers and rafters, a hardy bunch though we be! Remember that just because you do not see them does not mean they don't see you.
The biggest potential problem on the Rio Grande, and especially in the Lower Canyons, is getting medical assistance in case of emergencies. It is best to have first aid training and supplies, and to be with others who are similarly prepared. Cell phones are useless and roads in the area are minimal to non-existent, both in quantity and quality. Rescue over land would be extremely difficult and slow. Rescue by air would be extremely costly if it could be summoned at all. Proper trip planning, preparation and execution will minimize or eliminate the necessity of rescue efforts. The best trip requires you to save only great memories of being among friends on a rarely-seen wilderness river trip. You may see other boaters, hikers or campers in the Upper Canyons area, but they will be rare sights in the Lower Canyons, where those in your group are likely to be the only people you encounter.
Click HERE for the history and anthropology of the Rio Grande