The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo del Norte, as it is known in Mexico, flows from its headwaters near Alamosa, Colorado, through New Mexico and down the Texas-Mexico border through Big Bend to Brownsville and the Gulf of Mexico. However, paddling in New Mexico is generally limited to the Taos Box area near Taos, though it is possible to paddle several other sections of the river, as well.
Between Little Arsenic Spring and John Dunn Bridge lies about 9.5 miles of moderate Class II to III whitewater on a gradient of about 13 fpm that is locally known as La Junta, which is sandwiched between the Upper and Lower Taos Box reaches of the Rio Grande. It is markedly contrasted against the death-defying Upper Box and the nearly as scary Lower Box, either of which require advanced to expert level skills for safe navigation. La Junta, on the other hand, can be run in canoes (with flotation), kayaks or rafts by most paddlers with strong intermediate or higher level whitewater skills. The reach is rich in scenic, natural beauty and guarded by access along three put-in points, each of which requires a hike of about one mile with boats and gear, so adequate time to get ready to get on the river, as well as to exit the river at the end (if taking out above John Dunn Bridge) is required. In rainy weather the roads to Cebolla Mesa and Miners Trail can be impassable, so take care not to get stuck and then spending your day freeing your vehicle rather than paddling the gorgeous Rio Grande.
This reach is controlled by both the BLM Taos office and the U.S. Forest Service. Reservations are required, so call BLM at 505-751-4731, and self-register at the access point registration stations upon arrival. Unlike the sections above and below, La Junta will allow time to take some beautiful photos to remember your trip and share those memories with others. Just be sure to pack everything in drybags or dryboxes to protect against unwanted water exposure, because you are probably going to get wet. THis late-spring to early-summer run is dependent upon snowmelt from above, so the water will be cold and the air may be cool to cold. Dress appropriately to avoid hypothermia.
Southern Taos County, near SH 522 and CR B007, flowing southwest of Questa down to just west of Arroyo Hondo. The nearest cities are Las Vegas and Santa Fe, though numerous ski resort towns in the Taos - Red River area are closer.
Santa Fe 55 miles; Albuquerque 116 miles; Phoenix 574 miles; Durango 267 miles; Denver 758 miles; Salt Lake City 664 miles; El Paso 250 miles; Dallas 758 miles; Austin 793 miles; San Antonio 804 miles; Houston 979 miles; Oklahoma City 594 miles; Little Rock 935 miles; Kansas City 775 Miles. (All distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality in this section of the Rio Grande is usually very good to excellent. The river is rated Class II to III at flows under 3,000 cfs.
The prime season on the La Junta run is usually April through June, though a heavy winter snowpack above can extend the season. Around Mother's Day is probably the most popular time for this run.
All private boaters are required to make reservations through BLM (575-758-8851) for paddle trips on this reach of the Rio Grande. River Office contact is Mark Sundin at 575-751-4720. There is no fee, and registration at self-serve stations at each access make the process fast and easy.
There are no significant rapids on the upper section of this run. There are, however, several Class III rapids than can pose problems for less experienced or unattentive boaters, especially at higher flows. The biggest hazard may be the cold water temperature and the potential for hypothermia unless properly attired for cold water immersion and exposure.
Little Arsenic Trail on river left at 0.0 miles; Cebolla Mesa trail on river left at about 1.5 miles; Miner's Trail on river left at about miles; John Dunn Bridge on river left at about 9.5 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Rio Grande. Access via Little Arsenic Trail, Cebolla Mesa Trail and Miner's Trail each require a steep hike of about one mile into or out of the gorge. Road access to Cebolla Mesa Trail and Miner's Trail may be impassable during or for several days after significant rainfall or other precipition.
There are no public campgrounds located along this reach of the river below Cebolla Mesa though camping is available at Little Arsenic Springs and Cebolla Mesa, but adequate camping can be found in the area of the Upper Taos Box above, as well as at any of at least three campgrounds located between the Taos Junction Bridge and the Town of Pilar, along SH 68. These are Lone Juniper, Arroyo Hondo and Orilla Verde Recreation Area. Camping in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area is $7.00 per night. Please occupy only open sites, and do not walk through occupied sites, as a courtesy to other users of the river and these campgrounds. There may be other public or private campgrounds located near the Upper or Lower Taos Box areas. Numerous resorts and motels are available within a short distance.
There are no known liveries or outfitters located along the Rio Grande in the near vicinity of the La Junta run, though several commercial outfitters run trips in this area. Be prepared to set up and run your own shuttles if you cannot contract for shuttles with one of the outfitters.
The La Junta reach of the Rio Grande is like a sandwich with the bread placed between two pieces of meat - the Upper and Lower Taos Boxes. Unlike the hairboat Upper Taos Box with its Class V to VI whitewater or the Lower Taos Box with its Class IV whitewater, the La Junta run is a more "sedate" Class II to III run that the experts refer to as "flatwater". To be sure, this is a pool-and-drop section with more flatwater than rapids, but it is still an exciting and scenic place to paddle. Unlike the sections on either side, this one can be enjoyed in canoes (with flotation), kayaks, rafts or inflatable kayaks by most paddlers having at least solid intermediate level whitewater skills. Swiftwater rescue skills would be an asset. The water is cold, so be sure to dress appropriately. Be prepared for the long walks getting from the parking areas to the river - above John Dunn Bridge are three access points, each requiring about a mile of portaging gear and boats to get to the river. If half the fun is getting there, then this should be one really fun ride for almost anybody! Be sure to pack the camera to capture some memories of a very gorgeous river.