Living in an ‘always wired’ culture and working in the intense field of quantitative trading, I have lately sought out vacations that offered the rare opportunity to be completely unplugged. This summer I traveled to the Rio Chama River in New Mexico with my family to experience not only the stunning wilderness that the river has to offer, but to allow everyone to take in the day with our only guide being the daylight and our only ‘technology’ the novels we carried in our packs. As this trip was a multi-day journey, we started our stand up paddling adventure just below El Vado Res at Cooper’s Ranch to reach our end destination 32 miles down river where we passed vast forested canyons and beautiful sandstone walls along the way.
We started our three day excursion on the Rio Chama in the small town of Abiquiú, in Rio Arriba County, which is roughly 53 miles north of Santa Fe. Abiquiú is also home to the artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s residence and to the steep red rock cliffs of “Ghost Ranch,” the inspiration of many of her paintings. As we were driving into a small northern town an hour from Abiquiú, we immediately lost cell reception among the serene, desolate landscapes that stretched for miles on end.
After a few hours of paddling and absorbing all the nature beauty the Rio Chama had to offer, we actually stumbled across a hot spring, which was easily one of the most memorable parts of our first day. Much to our surprise, hot springs have continuous flowing pristine waters that have a high levels of chloride that naturally helps skin. The incredibly hot water can range anywhere from 100-115 degrees and the heat can last in your body for weeks on end. We were amazed how the water could stay that hot when it was literally a foot away from the chilly waters of the Rio Chama.
Throughout the day Brandon and Kyle, our wonderful guides, prepared hearty meals such as steak and mashed potatoes, dutch oven enchiladas or traditional American breakfasts that deliciously represented the rustic simplicity of life. To be honest, as Brandon had pointed out to Mia early in the trip, this was not her first trip camping, but ‘glamping’. With a campfire going that Mia and Ethan worked hard to feed with twigs and branches, it was clear that this trip had already relaxed us while also enabling us to connect with nature in a more meaningful, way.
Embarking on our second day, we were fortunate enough to really get lost in the endless green that was spread across the cliffs on the horizon. Nature’s pristine beauty was apparent with every earthy, reddish cliff or tranquil mountain pass on our route.
One interesting difference between the open, clear waters of the Virgin Islands and Rio Chama is the need to be quite vigilant or alert as you travel down rivers. Heightened awareness is essential when traveling down the river, primarily because there are many rocks that pose a serious danger to anyone who is stand up paddleboating or kayaking on the Chama.
Even on the last day of our excursion, we were still absolutely mesmerized by the breathtaking sandstone cliffs that towered over river and the forests downstream. It is really no surprise that Georgia O’Keefe found so much of herself and her artistic inspiration from the stunning vistas that have graced this region for hundreds of years.
Along with the wilderness being particularly entrancing, floating on the Rio Chama on a multi-day excursion is a wonderful family experience.
At the end of the trip, Mia and Ethan were able to read the lines of the river even on the more difficult rapids. We ended our memorable adventure on Rio Chama enjoying delicious malts and milkshakes under the clear, limitless sky and let the time move slowly.
New Mexico River Adventures (our guides): http://www.newmexicoriveradventures.com
The Frosty Cow (milkshakes & malts):
21196 US Hwy 84