The Rio Chama is a major tributary of the Rio Grande. For 31 miles, it flows through a canyon (at times 1500 feet deep) and through designated wilderness. The river has towering cliffs, heavily wooded canyons, archeological sites, and dinosaur tracks. The Rio Chama was designated Wild and Scenic in 1988 and runs through six miles of the wilderness. Colorful sandstone bluffs and rock formations rise to high rims on both riverbanks. Water levels reflect releases from El Vado Lake Dam. With access limited, most people don't visit the grassland that dominates the upland portion of the area. Varying elevations in the canyon provide a wide range of trees, from low-lying pi?on-juniper to ponderosa pine and fir. Mammals include mule deer, black bear, elk, coyote, and mountain lion. Most of the wilderness lies in Santa Fe National Forest, with a portion in Carson National Forest. There are a few private in-holdings in the area.

Directions: Turn west off US-84 just north of Tierra Amarilla onto NM-112, drive southwest about 15 miles, then turn left on the short spur road to El Vado Ranch. This is the rafting put in. Return to US-84, turn right, and drive south about 27 miles. About 1.5 miles south of the turnoff to Echo Amphitheater Campground, turn right onto USFS-151. Follow this dirt road 5 miles southwest to the Big Eddy. This is the rafting takeout.

Ornithological Summary

Cliffs and side canyons of the river and mesa provide habitat for nesting raptors. This stretch of the Chama provides a high-quality stream and other than rafters has very little human disturbance. Golondrina Mesa provides and excellent example of Ponderosa Pine forest in excellent condition. The area thus provides relatively undisturbed bird habitat containing riparian, pi?on-juniper, cliff face, and pine forest.

Note: Dusky Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Grace's Warbler data repeated for 1995-1998

Bald Eagle (W), no date - max=40-50

Conservation Issues

Recreational increase (rafting) could have an adverse impact on the habitat.


Bureau of Land Management, 226 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, NM 87571, 505-758-8851

Santa Fe National Forest, 1474 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505, 505-438-7840

Carson National Forest, 208 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, NM 87571, 505-758-6200

Land Use

Rafting is the other category under tourism/recreation.

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