Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Rio Grande Gorge (or The Rio Grande Rift)

The Rio Grande Rift
On page 31 of THE BISTI BUSINESS, BJ Vinson views the Rio Grande Gorge from a Cessna airplane and notes that “over the eons, gravity and friction and the sheer power of water molecules have carved a deep crevasse through the hard basalt of the Taos Plateau.”

He is only partially correct. While it is true that friction and gravity and water have done their part in creating this spectacular phenomenon of nature, the valley appeared first, and the river came second. The Rio Grande Rift isn’t just any old canyon holding a river, but rather a separation of the earth’s crust caused by faulting and volcanic action when the North American and Pacific Plates rubbed noses millions of years ago. The rift encompasses 160,000 square miles from central Colorado almost to the Big Bend country in Texas. The Taos Plateau, which is a part of the rift system, makes up a portion of the San Luis Basin created by this geologic activity.

Grabens, depressed blocks of land bordered by parallel faults, formed when rock was pulled apart by tectonic forces, thereby creating the rift. Collapsing stone, volcanic lava, and ash partially filled the grabens (German for ditch or trench), leaving what we now know as the Rio Grande Rift. The canyon reaches depths of 800 feet somewhere below the Taos Bridge. Some of the earliest Pueblos may have experienced earthquakes as the rift developed. Very ancient ones, such as the Clovis people probably witnessed active volcanoes some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. This geologic activity forced gold and silver and many other valuable metals and minerals to the surface throughout the area.

The Rio Grande Gorge as Viewed from the Taos Bridge
The gorge is the site of many ancient petroglyphs. At the bottom of the Gorge, the shores of the Rio Grande are dotted with hot springs and aboriginal ruins. The Gorge has Class II to Class V white water rapids managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In New Mexico, the river has two main sections for rafting near Taos: The Taos Box and the Racecourse Run. The Box is a dramatic, deep canyon run famous for it is big Class IV rapids. The Racecourse Run is better suited for first-time rafters and families.

According to, some of the best places to view the Rio Grande Rift are as follow:

·         The Overlook on NM Highway 68 about eight miles south of the Ranchos de Taos post office

·         The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on US Highway 64 about thirteen miles northwest of Taos

·         The Wild Rivers Recreation Area about thirty-five miles north of Taos

This is magnificent country well worth a visit. While you’re at it, stop for a dip in one of the hot springs at Ojo Caliente.

Next week:The Farmington area as seen in THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive