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Rio Embudo, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Dirt Road off SH 75 to SH 75 Bridge
~ 5 miles


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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Rio Embudo forms in or very near Murphy Peak State Park in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Taos County in far northcentral New Mexico, then flows west by northwest to its confluence with the Rio Grande just below the Town of Dixon, near the interesection of SH 68 and SH 75. This absolutely gorgeous river flows out of the mountains, through the high desert and into an awesome granite canyon. The popular run is about 5 miles of steep creek hairboating for expert whitewater kayakers ONLY! It rivals the Rio Pueblo for potential dangers, with an average gradient of 163 fpm, about 21 fpm steeper that the average for Rio Pueblo. Runs start at about 7,045 feet msl and drop to 6,230 feet msl on a changing gradient of 70, 115, 260, 220 and finally 188 fpm.

The Inner Gorge is comprised of upper and lower gorges. The wilderness area surrounding the Inner Gorge is rife with rattlesnakes, cacti, rocks, sand and desert temperatures, among other perils. Hiking out of the lower gorge is NOT an option, though a hike-out trail is available between the upper and lower gorges of the Inner Gorge. The deep canyon is a spectacle of rock walls and huge boulders that formerly were part of the canyon walls, but which now create the Class V to VI- rapids that you will encounter on the Rio Embudo. This river has a serious pucker factor for those venturing here to paddle. An interesting side note is that the Spanish word "Embudo" means "funnel". Take that for what it's worth! This river has tendencies to "funnel" the water between narrow boulders that require tight maneuvering by boaters to run successfully.


Taos County, near the Town of Dixon, flowing to the Rio Grande in far northcentral New Mexico just south of the Colorado border. SH 68 and SH 75 meet at the confluence with the Rio Grande.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 48 miles; Albuquerque 108 miles; Phoenix 564 miles; Durango 304 miles; Denver 795 miles; Salt Lake City 701 miles; El Paso 244 miles; Dallas 751 miles; Austin 786 miles; San Antonio 797 miles; Houston 972 miles; Oklahoma City 631 miles; Little Rock 972 miles; Kansas City 812 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 excellent on this remote river, flowing clean, clear and very cold, but not drinkable without purification. Flows are rated in stage levels as Class V at 2.7 to 3.3 feet, Class V+ at 3.3 to 4.1 feet, and Class VI- over 4.1 feet. Runs are not recommended when flows are below 2.7 feet.

Best time to go

The Rio Embudo generally flows best in May and June, though summer rains may extend the season into July. Check the USGS gauges before making a trip to paddle this river.

Hazards to navigation

For all practical purposes the entire run on the Rio Embudo is a hazard, though the section just below the put-in has easy Class II to III rapids. Approaching the Lower Gorge the rapids become increasingly more difficult and frequent, running together one after the other. After the first of the Class IV drops the rapids never let up until you reach the takeout, so be prepared, because there will be little time to scout some of them, and portages can be both difficult and time-consuming. The desert floor above is full of rattlesnakes, making walking out dangerous after you climb the canyon walls. Experienced boaters recommend having a knowledgeable guide if you have never run this river, or have only run it once or twice. New paddlers to this river should run it at medium to low flows (about 2.7 to 3.3 feet).

Major log jams, boulder gardens with undercut sieves, steep drops and pour-overs, as well as a contricted canyon all combine to make this run dangerous for expert boaters and deadly for anybody else. Canoes and rafts can go somewhere else to play. The Upper Gorge ends at Long Rapid (Class V to V+) with several horizon lines and a floating log jam on river left. Scout ahead from just above the log jam. Cheezegrater (Class V to V+) has two pour-overs that are runnable if paddling from left to right, avoiding an undercut boulder along river right. Less than a tenth of a mile below Cheezegrater is M.J. Falls (Class V+ to VI), where the river disappears and drops into a boulder garden of huge granite rocks. Scout this drop on river right and pay close attention to the overhanging rock. Between the Upper and Lower Gorges is a walk-out trail on river left at the rock notch for those who do not wish to tempt fate by running the Lower Gorge with its drop of more than 200 feet in one half mile.

The Lower Gorge is comprised of more constant rapids in the Class V+ to VI- range, but three are specifically named. S-Turn Rapid starts the run through this section with a boulder-dodging paddle that gets the blood pumping. Slots of Fun is a series of very difficult rapids that many paddlers will choose to portage by taking out on river left down to the top of the final slot-type drop, then ferrying across the river and continuing to portage the last drop on river right. The final major rapid is called Taco Garden, where the Lower Gorge widens and the river becomes more shallow, but still fast. Pinning and wrapping in this area is a high probability for boaters not paying attention to their lines.

River Access Points

Dirt road about 6.6 miles past Dixon - take a right turn between mile markers 9 and 10, then proceed to the difficult-to-find put-in at 0.0 miles (NOTE: this dirt road is only accessible by high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles); Rock notch walk-out trail on river left at about 4.0 miles (between the upper and lower gorges); SH 75 bridge where it crosses the river above Dixon at about 5.0 miles. There are no other access points for this section of the Rio Embudo. Runs can be made on the Class II to III section above this one, but access points are difficult to find and the river is frequently very bony.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds located along this section of the Rio Embudo. Three campgrounds are available along the Rio Grande between Taos Junction Bridge and the Town of Pilar. Improved and unimproved campsites are available at Murphy Peak State Park near the headwaters. There may be other campsites available in the general area.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along the Rio Embudo. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles.

Reviewer's Comments

The Rio Embudo is another run that I will never make because of its technical difficulty and inherent danger. Besides, it is not suitable for whitewater canoes (such as mine) or rafts. This is a hairboat run for expert whitewater kayakers only. The river is rich with magnificent scenery, though it may be lost in the concentration necessary to safely navigate the boulder gardens, big drops and log jams. If running Rio Embudo, then you might also want to run the Rio Pueblo, located just a few miles to the north and flowing generally parallel to this one, also ending at the Rio Grande. These two rivers closely resemble the steep creek runs of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and California. Watch out for rattlesnakes - they may live in the desert above, but they eat fish and drink water from the river, as well.

Technical Data
Class Rating V to VI-
Length 5 miles
Min. Stage 2.7 feet
Opt. Stage 2.7 to 4.1 feet
Max. Stage 4.2 feet
First Put-in Dirt road east of Dixon
Lat. / Long. 36.1926994 / -105.7643967
Last Take-out SH 75
Lat. / Long. 36.2112007 / -105.9152985
Elevation 7,045-6,230 feet msl
Gradient 170 fpm av / 260 fpm max
USGS Gauge Web: Dixon
Season May through June (?)
Permits No

BLM Taos FIeld Office

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[ Red River ] [ Rio Brazos ] [ Upper Rio Chama ] [ Chama Canyon ] [ Rio Pueblo ]

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