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Pecos River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Red Bluff Lake to FM 11
175 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Pecos River forms in Mora County, New Mexico, then begins a journey of about 500 miles to its confluence with the Rio Grande at International Amistad Reservoir on the Mexico border near Langtry, the famous home and location of the courtroom/saloon of Judge Roy Bean, "The Law West of the Pecos". Of its total length, about 350 miles flows through the rugged Chihuahuan desert of West Texas, where there is very little to suggest civilization ever set foot here. In Texas, the river flows from Red Bluff Reservoir in Loving and Reeves Counties near Orla in a southeasterly direction through semi-arid scrublands where riverbank vegetation runs the gammit from none to small brush to dense stands of saltcedar (Tamarisk) trees. Below Pandale, the river cuts its way through gorgeous canyons with walls rising hundreds of feet above the riverbed.

The upper reach of the Pecos River in Texas offers very limited opportunities for paddling, its flow being relatively low below Red Bluff Reservoir other than during periods when the skies open up and inundate this West Texas area with substantial rainfall. The arid desert surroundings offer sparse vegetation and LOTS of sand! Rattlesnakes outnumber people, but usually hide from the hot sun, coming out an night to hunt small rodents that also avoid the daytime extremes found here. Navigable flows almost never exist on the first 30+ miles of this reach, and even below that are seldom found along the entire 175 miles of this potentially Class I to II run, which ends south of Monahans and southwest of Pecos, the former home of the infamous Billie Sol Estes, con-man extraordinaire and close friend of former President LBJ.

Ironically, there are about 6-8 good access points along this reach. If you enjoy big sky, low-volume, open range desert paddling, and are fortunate enough to be here when the rains start falling, then you will be treated to a long run of immense natural beauty, and you might even get to see blooming plantlife that few have ever observed in this part of Texas. Hell, few people have even seen this area. This is what Yankees think about our state unless they have actually visited it! Just don't expect to find any campgrounds, outfitters, restaurants, grocery stores, beer joints (or any other kind of joints), shuttles or anything else along the way. This is a true wilderness trip for tough paddlers who enjoy being away from it all. This place is a LONG way away from everything!


Loving, Reeves, Ward, Crane, Crockett and Pecos Counties of far West Texas, near ... NOTHING! El Paso, the closest significant city, is about 4-5 hours to the west. IH 20 crosses the river at the Town of Pecos.

Distance from major cities

El Paso 250 miles; San Antonio 395 miles; Austin 426 miles; Dallas 460 miles; Houston 612 miles; Oklahoma City 665 miles; Little Rock 785 miles; Kansas City 965 miles; Albuquerque 324 miles; Phoenix 782 miles; Denver 761 miles; Salt Lake City 928 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally poor to fair due to low flow and pollution from agricultural and oil field runoff contaminants. Flow is usually too low for paddling except after a significant rainstorm, when the river can flash flood quickly, then drop again almost as fast.

Best time to go

There is no predictable "best" time to paddle this long reach of the Pecos River. Navigable flows depend entirely upon substantial rainfall in the drainage basin of this desert area. If everything from El Paso to Midland and Odessa are getting soaked, then pack the boat and get ready for an "adventure".

Hazards to navigation

There are no substantial hazards to navigation other than the usual lack of water. When the river flows, usually in flash flood conditions, fast currents are more the problem than rapids and drops. The river is flatter than a crepe, with few obstructions in its channel. Hot sun and hot winds are the primary hazards, but as they like to say in Arizona, "It's a DRY heat!"

River Access Points

Red Bluff Dam at 0.0 miles; FM 652 northeast of Orla at about 6.0 miles; SH 302 crossing southwest of Mentone at about 43.0 miles; US Highway 80 crossing at the Town of Pecos at about 95.0 miles; IH 20 crossing near Pecos at about 97.0 miles; FM 1927 crossing south of Pyote and IH 20 at about 127.0 miles; SH 18 crossing above Imperial Reservoir at about 158.0 miles; and FM 11 crossing at Imperial Reservoir at about 175.0 miles (NOTE: ALL mileage measurements are very rough guesses.)

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds, hotels, motels or any other type lodging anywhere near this reach of the river. This is the middle of nowhere, so plan on truly "roughing it" if you are coming here to paddle.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no outfitters, liveries or shuttle services in this area. Bring everything you need and run your own very long shuttles. Allow a day at each end of your trip if leaving vehicles at each end of the run.

Reviewer's Comments

This is a hard place to paddle for numerous reasons, not the least of which is a general lack of navigable flow. There are several access points, each separated by long distances, and no services of any kind are to be found along the way. The Pecos River, between Red Bluff Reservoir on the New Mexico border and FM 11 south of Monahans, offers a lot of big sky, hot temperatures, enough sand to start a new Saudi Arabia and more snakes and critters than people. About the only time you can actually paddle this run is after a really big rain event, in which case the river will flash and become dangerous because of very swift currents and the narrow channel. Boulders, trees and such are not going to be a problem here, because there are none of them to be found. This is the West Texas desert, so if you are coming, then bring plenty of drinking water, food and other provisions, and be prepared to spend a day on each end of your trip doing shuttles. Bring a camera, because there are plants that bloom only after major rainstorms and you can capture some shots that few, if any, have ever witnessed. The area hold a special natural beauty that is really quite scenic in an arid sort of way, but it is NOT for recreational paddlers. This reach of the Pecos River should be left to wilderness paddlers who come fully prepared for whatever they might encounter.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 175 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Red Bluff Lake Dam
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out FM 11 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Girvin
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Heavy local rainfall dependent
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Dallas Down River Club - Promoting paddlesports, safety and environmental protection

Alamo City Rivermen - Paddling the fine line between geek and bubba

Austin Paddling Club - Just for the fun of it!

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Rio Grande and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Rio Grande

[ Rio Grande Homepage ] [ Colorado Canyon ] [ Santa Elena Canyon ] [ The Great Unknown ]
[ Mariscal Canyon ] [ San Vicente & Hot Springs Canyons ] [ Boquillas Canyon ] [ Lower Canyons ] [ Lower Rio Grande ]

Pecos and Devils Rivers

[ FM 11 to US Hwy 67/385 ] [ US Hwy 67/385 to FM 1980 ] [ FM 1980 to US Hwy 290 ]
[ US Hwy 290 to Pandale Crossing ] [ Pandale Crossing to Pecos River Marina ] [ Devils River ]

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