The Mora River, a significant tributary of the Canadian River, forms on the southeast side of Murphy Peak Lake State Park in Taos County, then flows east by southeast across IH 25 at Valmora in Mora County to Sabinoso and its confluence with the Canadian River in San Miguel County. The reach described in this report begins at Valmora and continues about 40 miles to Sabinoso. Along this run the river offers a remote trip ranging from easy Class I flatwater from Valmora to a little past Shoemaker, located about 10 miles east of Valmora, then gradually increasing to extremely difficult Class V and V+ drops between Shoemaker and the Canadian River. Many of the larger drops require portages because they are just too hazardous to run. The headwaters flow out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Santa Fe National Forest and into the high desert above Conchas Lake where the Mora meets the Canadian a few miles north of its sister tributary, the Conchas River, and a few more miles south of another tributary, the Vermejo River.
While some of this run is on flatwater access is very limited, so boating should be left to expert level whitewater kayakers and canoeists who are capable of managing the big drops, tricky portages and all the dangers inherent on extreme whitewater rivers. Some of the rapids may reqwuire portaging regardles of boat or skill level. From its headwaters the river flows through the Turkey Mountains west of IH 25, then into the desert where it cuts a deep canyon in the sandstone of eastern New Mexico. Boulder slides have produced significant rapids, and the cut of the river has engineered steep drops. The remoteness of the area and difficulty of getting outside assistance make running the Mora suitable only for those with the skills and experience to handle the challenges that await in the deep canyons. The primary hazard to navigation is having adequate water to float your boat - the Mora is a very seasonal river that usually flows only in years of above normal precipitation in its drainage basin. When it flows the river becomes a whitewater paradise for expert whitewater kayakers, flowing bigger and wilder as it approaches the Canadian River at Sabinoso.
This reach begins and ends in San Miguel County northeast of Las Vegas, flowing about 40 miles between Valmora off IH 25 to Sabinoso on the Canadian River, where it ends north of Conchas Lake and northwest of Tucumcari. Santa Fe is about an hour's drive west of Las Vegas.
Albuquerque 136 miles; Las Cruces 359 miles; Santa Fe 75 miles; Phoenix 594 miles; Durango 240 miles; Grand Junction 410 miles; Denver 306 miles; Salt Lake City 695 miles; Oklahoma City 507 miles; Dallas 614 miles; Austin 709 miles; San Antonio 759 miles; Houston 895 miles; Little Rock 847 miles; Kansas City 747 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)
When it flows, the water quality is very good to excellent. Flows are dependent upon snowmelt and rainfall runoff from the Sangre de Cristo and Turkey Mountains in the Santa Fe National Forest area of Taos, Santa Fe and Mora Counties. Adequate flows for boating usually occur only in years with above average precipitation in the drainage basin.
Late-spring to early-summer is the the optimum season on the Mora River in years with above average winter snowpack and/or spring rainfall in the drainage basin. The river is very seasonal, and may not have adequate water for paddling in average or below average precipitation years.
This reach of the Mora River begins on quiet flatwater, then steadily escalates to Class V drops with some Class V+ hazards that include boulder gardens, steep drops, strong hydraulic currents, dead-fall debris, rock ledges, outcroppings and shelves, difficult portages and very limited access, which gives the river a Class VI characteristic at high flows. The upper erach of the river may also have fences string across the river, so beware of getting tangled in them. There may also be sweepers around river bends, especially after major flooding. Portages may be necessary. During a navigable season the river may rise quickly and unexpectedly because of increased runoff far upstream. Be aware of changing river conditions to prevent being swept over a steep drop by swift currents.
Put in off IH 25 near Valmora at 0.0 miles; Shoemaker, on State Road 97 about 10 miles east of Valmora near Watrous, at about 10.0 miles (private land - permission required; parking is difficult and limited); Sabinoso, at the Canadian River confluence at about 40.0 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Mora River.
There are no campground along this reach of the Canadian River, but the canyon bottom is relatively wide with plenty of places to camp and generally an abundance of firewood along the lower reach of the river. The closest campgrounds for this run are Murphy Lake State Park, between SH 121 and SH 161 east of IH 25, where excellent campsites with amenities can be found, Sugarite Canyon State Park off SH 72 a few miles east of Raton and Conchas Lake State Park (505-766-2724) more than 75 miles below the Springer put-in. Conchas Lake and the state park offer campsites with and without electricity, a launch ramp (small fee may apply), drinking water, restroons, showers, fishing, a sanitary dump station, day-use picnic area, a marina and fuel. Abundant natural campsites can be found all along the river, but beware of flash flooding and camp well above the river. During periods of navigable flows the river may rise quickly.
There are no liveries or outfitters located anywhere near the Mora River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles. The round trip distance for setting up shuttles is about 180 miles on paved roads, so allow a half day at each end of your run for shuttles.
When big water New Mexico rivers flow, they FLOW! The Mora River is very seasonal, but when there is a year of dense snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo and Turkey mountains, or significant rainfall anywhere in the drainage basin above the run, then paddlers can expect a wild ride through a gorgeous sandstone canyon in the high desert of eastern New Mexico. This reach is very scenic and equally remote. Running shuttles can take 4-5 hours, and once the run begins paddlers are committed to finishing what they start (some would they say that they should BE committed for beginning this run in the first place!) The desert topography is very beautiful, and the deep canyon shows the force and power of moving water flowing through rock formations. Unless you are a hairboat kayaker or canoeist do not not attempt a run on the Mora River below IH 25 at Valmora. Steep drops and difficult portages are more than most people can manage. Tao Berman would probably love this river! While this run MAY be made by SOME canoeists, it is not recommended as a canoe river due to the difficulty of several rapids and portages around the most difficult of them. Extreme caution is urged for any boatere attempting to run the Mora River below Shoemaker on SR 97, east of Watrous.