The Rio Grande

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to Traveling With Tom. Like many of you, I’m looking forward to the New Year that begins this coming Friday. Here’s hoping that 2021 is a less turbulent ride than 2020!

The inspiration for this weeks article came from a Facebook post that popped up this week featuring the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos, New Mexico. My thoughts went immediately to the early morning photo shoot we did of this bridge during the April 2018 workshop I attended in Taos. After a fifteen minute drive in a warm car to the bridge, it was a chilly, dark quarter mile walk from the parking lot to the edge of the Gorge. Flashlights were required to follow the path so as not to misstep and damage our cameras and tripods, much less our ankles. After setting up our equipment, we waited for the first peak of light over the Sangre de Cristos Mountains to the east.

After making a few photos of the first light, our attention quickly turned to back to the Gorge Bridge, also known as the High Bridge. This bridge is the tenth highest in the U.S. at about 600 feet above the Rio Grande. Built in the early 1960’s, it’s also considered one of the more beautiful steel bridges. Unfortunately, this bridge is the site of many suicides. A few years ago, a group of survivors of those who took their lives on this bridge, formed an alliance to pressure state and local officials to take prevention measures. While they have support, none of the recommendations have been enacted largely due to lack of funding and a few engineering conundrums. They promise to keep trying.

Below are a couple of the photos I took during our morning shoot. The challenge for photographers is not to blow out the highlights and yet have enough light in the shadows to see detail. Thanks to adjustments in Lightroom, I was able to balance both to end up with ok photos. The light reflecting off the Rio Grande adds to the interest.

The Rio Grande (known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico) begins its 1900 mile run to the Gulf of Mexico in south central Colorado. Snow melt in the Rocky Mountains feeds the Rio Grande. In years with little snow, this river turns into a trickle as it makes its way south and east through the desert. It’s estimated that about 95% of the water is used for irrigation and municipal purposes. A quote attributed to Will Rogers says a lot: “The Rio Grande is the only river I know that is in need of irrigating!” This is unlike it’s neighboring rivers, the Colorado and Mississippi.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument extends north to the Colorado border and south of Taos, encompassing nearly a quarter million acres. After the workshop, I had the opportunity to explore the area further. The following photo was taken several miles north of the Gorge Bridge near the Wild Rivers Visitor Center. The views were spectacular from the high ridge overlooking the river gorge.

The next morning, I stopped at the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos for more photos of this iconic church (click here to see my recent post of the churches of Taos). While at this church, I had the opportunity to chat with the parish priest while he was watering plants in the church yard. He told me about an area a few miles south of our location where there was good access to the Rio Grande Gorge. I carefully followed his directions to the parking lot then walked on the old, closed road part way down to the Gorge. I had the place to myself, here’s what I saw. It’s hard to see the Rio Grande in the deep gorge.

After walking down the road a bit, I could make out the deposits that people made into the gorge. This is why we can’t have nice things!

Earlier in 2018, my Traveling Partner and I did a two month tour of the Southwest. We escaped Wisconsin between two snow storms and headed south to central Texas then started west. Our first major stop was at Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande is the southern border of the park and separates the United States from Mexico. The Rio Grande makes a “big bend” as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico, hence the name of the park, Big Bend.

On the eastern side of the park, visitors can cross the Rio Grande into Mexico at the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. After presenting your passport, visitors can enter Mexico to visit the small town of Boquillas del Carmen to purchase crafts and gifts. Transportation across the Rio Grande, for a small fee, is by row boat. We didn’t make the crossing but were intrigued by the possibility.

Down the road from the border crossing is the Bouquillas Canyon Overlook and trail. As we walked the trail to the location below, we came across Singing Jesus, who for a small donation would sing a song in Spanish. We watched him serenade a couple of young women then continued on our way. On the return, he was gone. We could see he rowed across the Rio Grande each day to busk for change and returned home when the day was done. Apparently, this is quite common and not encouraged by park administration. In the fourth photo below, note the crafts displayed along the trail. Then in the fifth photo, note the craftsmen keeping an eye out on the Mexico side of the river. 


This photo is of the Rio Grande from the overlook in the parking lot.

Nearby was a hot spring along the river where visitors were enjoying the pleasant, sunny day. Behind us was a tall hill that reflected the sun on to the trail and water, making it one of the warmest spots in the park.

On the west end of the park is the Santa Elena Canyon. The short trail takes visitors part way into the canyon with the walls on each side of the river rising to about 1500 feet. It makes a very effective border wall! This was one of our favorite sites in the park. One can’t help but be in awe of the power of water that over millions of years created this beautiful canyon.

As we were making our way out back to the parking lot, the sun was behind us lighting up the hills in the distance. To me it’s such a peaceful, serene site.

The last two photos in this series of the Rio Grande were taken along Highway 170 between Terlingua and Presidio. The day was very chilly and overcast, it looked like rain but none fell. It was a good day for a drive to further explore the area west of Big Bend National Park.

That’s my take on the Rio Grande. It’s a beautiful river with great views, lots of history, and lots of controversy.

To all my followers and friends, a very happy, peaceful new year!

Until next week (in the new year!), happy virtual travels!


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