May is the Best Time for Water Sports Along the Rio Grande River

Rene Cizio
Kayaks along the Rio Grand River gorgeRene Cizio

I went whitewater kayaking on the Rio River Gorge and it was among the most challenging kayaking I’ve done yet. Yes, the river has some rapids, but it wasn’t the rapids that made the trip difficult, it was the wind.

I took a rambling early afternoon drive through the mountains along the Rio Grande Gorge. The 50-mile gorge runs from northwest to southeast of Taos, New Mexico and is about 800 feet deep at this deepest point near the Rio Gorge Bridge. At the bottom of the massive gorge, the Rio Grand River flows.

I kayaked the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park a month before, but it’s a different river in New Mexico. In Big Bend, the river was nearly dry, but here in New Mexico, alongside the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with its melting snow caps, it flows rapidly.

I met my guide and two other kayakers a few miles from the boat put-in. We drove together down to the deep gorge skirting past deer and Big Horn Sheep. Here in the heart of the Rio, the colors of the gorge are bright browns and gold and the water is cold enough to keep you fully alert.

The holes in the bottom of my inflatable kayak meant that I was instantly wet and my legs enjoyed some natural cryotherapy since they were frozen after about 15 minutes. The river is a chilly 50-ish degrees.

We started leisurely paddling through the bottom of the gorge, looking up at the lava rock face surrounding us. We were deep in the canyon, the walls surrounding us. The gorge canyon was carved out by erosion, volcanic activity, shifting tectonic plates. Massive lava rocks the size of small homes line the waterway. The gorge and over 225,000 acres (of surrounding land were designated as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in 2013.

Our four-hour trip down the river, however, was about to get a lot more intense.

From seemingly nowhere 23-mile-per-hour gale force winds swept into the canyon, pushing against the flow of the river. The winds were so strong if we did not paddle, they forced us back against the river. When we paddled, we were just strong enough to stay in place.

The wind was persistent and intense, giving us a full-body workout and a lot of laughs and we dug our paddles deep and struggled ahead. We joked that our adventure was the kayakers' version of summitting Everest (they’re making their summit bids now too – good luck to all!).

Our tour of the river included a few Class II rapids, which were a surprising delight since they were just strong enough to propel us quickly ahead and give us a short break from the exhausting paddling.

All the end, what was supposedly an “easy” stretch of river, gave us quite a good workout. Our guide, Rachel, said it was unusual, so we decided to consider ourselves lucky.

Despite our weird wind, the water levels and temperature in May make it the best time of year to kayak or raft the Rio Grande in New Mexico. So get out there!

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL

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