Hiking and mountain biking in the desert around El Paso can turn any outdoor lover into a desert rat. Three hundred-plus days of sunshine and nine inches of annual rainfall mean we can get out and after it just about every day. Desert rats thrive where there are dusty trails, scorching sun and plants just looking for the opportunity to draw blood.
El Paso’s climate doesn’t, however, lead to many opportunities for water sports. This year the International Boundary & Water Commission began releasing water earlier than usual into the Rio Grande from Elephant Butte Reservoir. We may be able to enjoy five months of the river flowing through the Upper Valley. Beyond the valley it’s mostly siphoned off into irrigation canals to grow cotton, pecans and chiles.
So in early June three of us decided to float a section of the rio that we’d previously only seen from bridges and river biking trails. We put in at the Vinton Road bridge and lazily floated thirteen miles before getting out at the Sunland Park Drive bridge. If you’re looking for high-speed, big-rapids fun you’ll have to drive much farther from El Paso. This was a half day well-wasted listening to birds, enjoying the ribbon of green trees along the banks and devising plans for bigger adventures on the water and in the mountains.
If you’re going to do this you’ll kayaks or canoes, paddles and life vests plus a plan to get the gear and your team in and out of the river. Food, water, sunscreen and a way to keep valuables dry are also important. The bridges over the rio are probably the best access points but some have better beach areas than others to put in and take out. You should probably scout things by car first.
Our team spent four hours floating this thirteen mile section. With little “action” along the way this may be longer than some people (especially children) want to sit in a slow moving vessel. As of this publication date GeoBetty Tours isn’t offering commercial tours along the Rio Grande, but stay tuned – we’re always looking for new outings to share.
Don’t wait too long to have your adventure in the Rio Grande. Before you know if the gates will close at Elephant Butte and the river won’t be so mighty again until next year.