Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rio Embudo

New Mexico is a fickle place for a kayaker, but when the rivers are running it's a surprisingly good place to be a kayaker. One of its gems is the Rio Embudo, a steep creek with it's headwaters in the Truchas Mountains south of Taos. If there is one kayaker who embodies the Embudo, its Atom Crawford. Atom grew up along the banks of the Embudo. His parents were garlic farmers and his Dad is a renowned author

 Atom Crawford, circa 2001

I met Atom during my first year in college in Olympia, Washington. A few years older, and a much more accomplished boater, he took me under his wing and for two years we literally lived, breathed, and ate kayaking. Atom would tell me tales of the Embudo, and the river quickly achieved mythical status in my mind.

After junior year I spent the summer in New Mexico with Atom, living on the banks of the Embudo on a piece of land his parents owned. We guided rafts on the Rio Grande and kayaked as much as we could, although not on the Embudo, it had stopped running by the time school had finished. It was a beautiful summer, full of sunsets and thunderstorms, sleeping and living under tarps down by the river.

Atom Crawford and Jalynda McKay at our Camp in Dixon, NM

Guiding the Governor of NM, Gary Johnson (orange boat), Down the Rio Grande.

Where We Spent the Bulk of Our Summer, Upper Box of the Rio Grande

In August, after a freak thunderstorm, the Embudo came up to a barely runnable level. I didn't mind the rocks in order the finally run the river, but the it wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for.

Entrance to Cheesegrater, 2001

Kitchen and Wild Mushrooms Gathered after a Backpacking Trip in the Truchas.

It wasn't until 2008 that I finally had a chance to paddle the Embudo during the spring runoff. I wasn't disappointed. Atom had moved back to Dixon, and bought a nice piece of land along the river, hosting a downriver race when the conditions allowed. I've never won the race, but I'm proud to have competed twice. It is one of the most grueling races out there. 

I caught the Embudo at its peak this spring, over two short days on a whirlwind trip from Denver. I'll let the photos do the talking for a bit.

Cloud Near Cerro, NM.

Long Rapid

Will Rawlstron. Cheesegrater.

Rolf Kelly. MJ.

Some Lines Were Better Than Others

Brian Bank. MJ.
Oliver Deshler. MJ.

Its Hard to See On the Embudo

Rolf. Entrance to MJ.

The Embudo increases in difficulty throughout the run, culminating in the longest set of sustained rapids near the end, the "slots of fun." 

 Rolf in the Entrance to the Slots of Fun

Will and Rolf

 Tom Janney Makes the Crucial Move over the Sticky Hole Above the Crux

 Will Rawlstron Enters the Final Slot

Will. Slots of Fun.

Tom Janney in the Final Rapid, Taco Garden.

What You Do in NM After Kayaking

Field Ready For Green Chile Planting on Atom's Farm. Takeout for the Embudo is the Large Cottonwood Tree.

 Lots of Paddling Relics Around the Farm

 Atom Crawford

After kayaking a few of us joined Atom for a quick hike around in the hills behind his house. It was a beautiful spring evening in the desert.

 Rio Embudo's Exit from the Lower Canyon

 Dixon, New Mexico

 Trucha's Mountains, Headwaters of the Embudo

Thursday, May 17, 2012


If you like to hike your kayak and spend you time in committing box canyons, then Durango, Colorado is your place. Arguably holding the best whitewater in the state, it is often the place to be. 

Vallecito Creek, just above Vallecito lake, is one of Colorado's best. It is Baker's Box more glamorous, accessible cousin. Scouting is an option, although usually done from the rim. The first weekend in May found me back in southwestern Colorado joining the usual suspects, chasing the melt from our feeble snowpack.

It's a mile hike to the beginning of Vallecito. Once on the water its only a few hundred yards to this, the pop quiz for what lays downstream.

Will Rawlston

Rolf Kelly

The quiz doesn't do much to prepare you for the exam. Entrance falls is a tricky  15 footer that is likely the hardest rapid on the run.

Jakub Pays the Price of Admission

Cooper. Entrance Falls.

Below Entrance Falls the river is in a tight box canyon filled with classic rapids. I'll let the photos do the talking.

Will Rawlston. Trash Can.

Rolf Kelly


 Here is a nice sequence of Cooper running Pick up Sticks.

Rolf Kelly. Fuzzy Little Bunny.

Fuzzy Little Bunny has a log in it this year. Good flows allowed us to sail over it, although it made this usual gimme a little more foreboding.



Taking a Break from Behind the Lens. Oliver Deshler.

Rolf From Below


Nate Klema in His Invader. Paddle Bitch.

Just below is the most committing rapid of the run, the exit to the canyon. 

Rolf Kelly Heads for The Finish Line

Will In the Middle Of No Way Out

One Stroke To Freedom. Will Rawlston. No Way Out.


Here is a nice sequence of Nate Klema and his usual behavior on the final ledge in Vallecito.

Discussing the Lines


Heading Back for More