New Mexico Grand Canyon: Rio Grande del Norte

While we were in New Mexico, of course we had to visit the New Mexico Grand Canyon.   Rio Grand del Norte National Monument was established by President Obama in 2016 and is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  But monuments don’t come to the attention of the President by accident.  The Rio Grand del Norte Gorge has long been admired and preserved by residents of New Mexico.

Most people see the New Mexico Grand Canyon from the bridge across the Gorge on US 64.  The Department of Transportation operates a popular rest stop at the Gorge.  The 1,272 foot long bridge has sidewalks on either side so people can walk across and admire the river 565 feet below.  There are also signs with help numbers for people who are considering jumping off the bridge.

Of course, driving to and across the bridge is the easy way to see the New Mexico Grand Canyon.  Although the bridge view is spectacular, Tom and I are not known for taking the easy way.  We wanted to see parts of the Rio Grande del Norte that are lesser known and have fewer visitors.  We started at the southern Rio Grande Gorge Visitors Center where we picked up trail maps and a good map of the monument.  Then we drove through Taos and headed up NM 522.  Although it doesn’t look far on the map, we drove over an hour before we wound around Cerro and reached the Wild Rivers Visitor Center.

At the Wild Rivers Visitor Center all the rangers came out to talk to us.  They hadn’t had many visitors and they seemed lonely.  We got lots of good advice.  We planned on hiking the Las Vistas de Questa Trail into the Rio Grande del Norte gorge.  It looked like a gentle trail without too many dropoffs.  But it was closed because of a recent rockfall.  So we hiked the rim trail instead and enjoyed the scenic vistas.  We saw several people who had planned to backpack into the gorge on the Questa Trail, but they were taking a different, steeper path instead.

Cabins by the river
Basalt cliffs on either side

Campgrounds dot the area and water is available on the rim, but generally the area is pretty remote.  No cell service, of course.  From the rim we spotted some little cabins close to the river that are available for $5 per night.  Great price if you are hiking in.

The Rio Grande del Norte was formed by the Rio Grande Rift.  This system, which sits between the Colorado Plateau and the plains, creates some beautiful and unique geology.  The eroding activity of the river continues to dig the valley deeper every year.  National forests surround the gorge.

Although the Rio Grande del Norte is remote, it is a beautiful place to visit.  It certainly deserves the title of New Mexico Grand Canyon.