Photo above: Rafting at Rio Grande del Norte. Right: A distant mountain view of Ute Mountain, the highest peak in the park. Courtesy BLM.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
Yes, you tend to think of the Rio Grande River as a south Texas border with Mexico phenom, but as it rises toward its genesis along the border of New Mexico and Colorado, some of the most spectacular vistas and recreation opportunities along that river, as well as others, find their way into a newish National Monument called Rio Grande del Norte. Tons of trails, lots of campsites, more than two hundred thousand acres of fun and history, yes, petroglyth history, as well as natural, that will amaze the unitiated, and once the word gets out even more, draw lots more visitors.
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Rio Grande del Norte Then
This land along the Rio Grande River and rising into the Taos Mountains is a subrange of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which is the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains. Whoa! Lots of ranges. And if you want to get even more confused, the highest mountain in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is Ute Mountain at 10,097 feet in elevation. But, no this is not the more famous and higher Ute Mountain or Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado near Mesa Verde National Park. The Sangre de Cristo range runs for two hundred and forty-two miles from south-central Colorado to Glorieta Pass. Ute Mountain is only the 26th highest peak in New Mexico, but it's still an impressive site to see contrasted to the Rio Grande Gorge.
From a people standpoint, there's evidence here that habitation has been occuring in the area since the Archaic period, with petroglyphs, stone tools, and pit houses as evidence. In more modern times, Apache, Ute, Taos Pueblo, and Picurus Pueblo peoples were residents. Once Spanish and English settlement began, predominantly in the 1800's, the remnants of homestead settlements that lasted until the 1930's show that settlement in this harsh land was not often a success.
Photo above: Petroglyth rock drawings. Courtesy BLM. Below: Scene landscape within Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Courtesy BLM.
Rio Grande del Norte Now
President Obama designated it a National Monument on March 25, 2013, including land within the Bureau of Land Management, who still manages the park. The over two hundred thousand acres includes the Rio Grande Gorge that's eight hundred feet deep, the Red River (of New Mexico) Wild and Scenic River, two recreation areas, and lots of hiking trails. There's the volcanic fields known as Taos Volcanic, Ute Mountain, and its bigger cousin, San Antonio Mountain, which is only partly within the park.
Today there are several paved roads through the monument, but the best known uses lay in the wild river rafting adventures and hiking opportunities. There are two visitor centers to orient the visitor to the recreation and history that abounds. For the creatures who make the park their home, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is an important winter corridor between the mountain ranges.
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Rio Grande del Norte
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Stop by one of the Visitor Centers for exhibits and orientation. Exhibits at Rio Grande Gorge and Wild Rivers include geology and natural history.
2. If you like that sort of thing, take a rafting trip. There are various guide outfitters who can guide you on the way, unless you're experience is good enough to tackle Class II to Class IV rapids.
3. Go on a hike. Trails abound throughout the monument. Ask at the Visitor Centers for the best trails that would suit your ability. Remember, even when you're on the plains of the park, you are at an elevation of about seven thousand feet. Take that into account when planning and taking your hike.
4. Don't want to raft or hike, then head over to La Junta Point near the Wild River Visitor Center. It's at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Red River and provides a great glimpse into the beauty of the park. There also the Wild Rivers Backcountry Byway to take a drive down.
Photo above: Bighorn sheep goat in the park. Courtesy BLM.