The website Paddling the Taos Box describes what it's like to take a raft down the Taos Box area of the Rio Grande:
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 Rio Grande and its Taos Box
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.
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.
Those Last Four Miles!
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. "The last four miles are just screaming huge big stuff," said CiscoGuevara, who's been running the Box for 32 years and operates his own river rafting company, Los Rios River Runners, in Taos. That doesn't mean he's immune or satiated by the river. "Especially at the top of the Rock Garden," he admits in a voice that exudes equal amounts of fear, respect and excitement, "I still get butterflies."
The "Taos Box Canyon" is the 17 miles of the Rio Grande River Canyon between John Dunn Bridge, at the mouth of Arroyo Hondo (the north/top blue point) and Taos Junction Bridge (the south/lower blue point) near Orilla Verde Recreation Area.
Taos's Whitewater Rafting Season starts in mid-April, as the Taos Ski Valley ski area closes down and the snow begins to melt. This is the beginning of the "High Water" rafting season. The early season until mid-June offers the biggest excitement and whitewater features. Increasing temperatures and declining water levels as summer progresses lead to technical late season runs. This is a great time for families to go rafting down the Rio Grande and lasts through the first week of September in most years.