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Pecos River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

FM 1980 to US Highway 290
~ 33 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 Rd 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 middle section of the navigable part of the Pecos River is a journey through undeveloped native ranchland with no commercial building or civilization to be found for miles around in any direction. Located along the partial boundary of Pecos and Crockett Counties, this 33 mile section of the Pecos River cuts through some of the wildest and most rugged landscape to be found in Texas. It is here that the Pecos begins its transformation from plains to rugged canyonland. Large bluffs and mesas located a distance away from the river give the impression of being in a canyon as the narrow river winds its way through the floodplain with semi-arid to arid climate for most of the year. As the river and its tributary creeks and streams cut through the rolling terrain deep canyons are formed. This reach of the Pecos River is often too low for paddling, but during periods of heavy rainfall flash floods will inundate the river and its side canyons. Many rapids are found along this section, particularly at the mouths of side canyons where boulders have been washed out into the main river channel during heavy floods.

Riffle Canyon enters on river right about 8 miles below the FM 1980 put-in. Six Mile draw enters on river right about 13 miles below Riffle Canyon. Deer Canyon enters on river left about a mile below Six Mile Draw. Four Mile Draw enters on river right about 3 miles below Deer Canyon. Musk Hog Canyon enters on river left about 4 miles below Four Mile Draw. Each of these canyons and draws is subject to flash flooding, and great care should be taken whenever rain is falling within the Pecos River drainage basin. Most adjacent land is privately owned, and trespassing should be avoided except with advance permission from the respective landowners. This includes land along and in the canyons and draws.


The Pecos River flows through Pecos, Terrell, Crockett, and Val Verde Counties (in Texas) to the confluence of the Rio Grande above Lake Amistad in the Texas Chihuahuan desert, ending about 20 miles west of Comstock. There is absolutely NOTHING near this reach of the river except the ssmall towns of Iraan and Sheffield, the open desert and its inhabitants.

Distance from major cities

Del Rio 190 miles (from the take-out); Midland 150 miles; Odessa 125 miles; Dallas 475 miles; Fort Worth 445 miles; Austin 300 miles; San Antonio 290 miles; Houston 490 miles; Oklahoma City 685 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination to the put-in at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Good most of the time, flowing over solid rock. The flow is usually inadequate for river trips except during the summer monsoon season from July through October. This section is free-flowing and usually needs recent local rainfall to paddle, then watch out for flash flooding, as the river can rise to dangerous levels very quickly.

Best time to go

Late summer through late fall is usually the best time for adequate water, though that can vary from season to season and year to year according to local rainfall amounts and pollution levels.

Hazards to navigation

The biggest hazards on this section of the river are the hot weather, hot sun and long distance between access points. There are several significant rapids or other major hazards to be encountered on this stretch of the Pecos River, as well as many small Class I-II rapids from the outwashes of boulders in the side canyons. Difficulty of the rapids will increase as the flow rises, so be very careful during periods of high water.

River Access Points

FM 1980 about 2 miles east of Iraan at 0.0 miles; County road crossing off SH 349 about 2 miles south of Iraan at about 3.0 miles; County road crossing off SH 349 about 6 miles south of Iraan at about 10.0 miles; County road crossing off SH 349 about 12 miles south of Iraan at about 19.0 miles; US Highway 290 crossing about 4 miles east of Sheffield at about 33.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no known campgrounds located on this section of the Pecos River. There are numerous natural primitive campsites along the river, though most are on private property. Access to them from off the river is difficult, at best, but always obtain permission before camping on private property. Be sure to be a good neighbor and pack out everything you take in with you, and a little more just to keep the river clean and neat for other paddlers and the animals that live there.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There is at least one commercial shuttle service in Comstock offering assistance on the Lower Pecos River area.

Reviewer's Comments

This section of the Pecos River is where the big canyons start to develop. The surrounding area is rugged and very scenic. Among the wildlife in the area are armadillos, raccoons, squirrels, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and many birds of prey. The rapids are very fun, but not too terribly challenging for experienced river runners (and you should not even be here unless you are capable of handling the rapids as well as the natural environment!) Several historical sites and state historical parks are nearby for those wanting more than just a river expeditionary trip with many side canyons to explore and photograph.

Take lots of film and a good camera in a waterproof, shock-resistent case. There are great photo opportunities everywhere, including Indian pictographs dating back more than 4,000 years on cave walls all along the way. Please do not deface the natural topography or pictographs and do not remove any artifacts or antiquities from the area under penalty of law and because not doing so is the proper thing to do out of respect for nature and the cultures and histories of those who were here 5,000+ years ago. This is an ideal trip for serious river runners who are properly experienced, outfitted and who have made careful trip planning a part of their preparations.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 33 miles
Minimum Flow 125 cfs
Optimum Flow 300 - 900 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,500 cfs
First Put-in FM 1980 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out US Highway 290 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Girvin
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Permits No

Pecos River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Pecos River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

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

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

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