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Rafting the Taos Box

Rafting Season runs late April through parts of September with high water typically running in May and June.

Ever gone swimming in the washing machine when it was spewing out sudsy water? How about sitting in a boat through a car wash? That’s the problem with trying to describe the froth and mayhem of paddling down whitewater rivers to someone who hasn’t experienced the real thing. It’s like trying to describe a river that is the real thing, a 16-mile stretch of the Rio Grande through what’s known as the Taos Box near Taos, New Mexico.

It’s called “The Box” because of the steep walls that make the canyon nearly impassable without a raft. If you leave something at home or back at the motel, or even at the put-in, forget it.

The geology that created the box, and the 1,800-mile long Rio Grande River, was a millions-of-years-ago rift, or crack, between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the ranges to the west. Volcanic activity filled the crack with lava. About 3 million years ago, water draining from the San Juan Mountains of Colorado began carving the river that dissects New Mexico and, eventually, the west and southwest boundary of Texas and the Texas-Mexico border, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Rio Grande and its Taos Box

But before that runoff settles down to a placid river, it rumbles through far northern New Mexico like a hormone-charged teenage boy driving a bumper car at the county fair, slamming and whamming into whatever comes next without restraint.
In the Box, things get especially wild the last four miles, when the constantly evolving geology combines with a narrowing canyon to create a succession of wildly whipping Class 4 rapids. The stretch of river is remarkable enough that the Box and a neighboring section were the nation’s first wild and scenic river.

Those Last Four Miles! The Hour of Power…

After a hairpin turn at Dead Car Rapid, hold on tight for big drop at Powerline Falls. A little time to catch your breath here before hitting Pinball. Now summon all your strength, Rock Garden is just ahead, over a 1/2 mile of Class IV rapids one after another. Another deep breath. Then Boat Reamer, Screaming Left, Screaming Right….The canyon is starting to open up. And for a grand finale, Sunset. Don’t let the leisurely name fool you. Sunset is no less than a Class IV rapid and sometimes a Class V. Ok, whew. All over now.

The Taos Box usually runs from May through the end of June, but call now. Limited space and water flow can affect your reservation.

Special thanks to High on Adventure and Jenny Harris for contributing to this article, which was originally published on Photo from Wikimedia Commons.