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The Rio Grande

One river, many gifts

Water is a recurring theme among the places and people we visit in New Mexico. Whether to be protected, revered, listened to, or gazed upon, water is a connecting force for the community and environment.

Although the Rio Grande river is well known for its size—it is one of the longest river systems in North America—and for creating a natural border between the United States and Mexico, it is the peaceful banks, inspiring views, and supporting landscape that give the Rio Grande its true allure.

We are 15 miles northwest of Santa Fe, near Diablo Canyon, walking along the riverside and taking in the sights and sounds. We hear the soft shake of cottonwood branches in the wind and the trills and warbles of unseen birds. Closer to the water, the vegetation fluctuates between shades of dark green and sunlit chartreuse. We see tumbleweeds caught in the red willows, and the steady cadence of running water enhances the tranquility of the area.

Although the river is well known for its size and for creating a natural border between the U.S. and Mexico, it’s the peaceful banks, inspiring views, and supporting landscape that give the Rio Grande its true allure.

Although we are simply enjoying the scenery on a sunny afternoon, it is important to remember that the river provides so much more. The Rio Grande has supplied New Mexico inhabitants with essential resources since Native Americans first utilized its waters for irrigation of the arid region. A large network of acequias (communal watercourses) are still used today to manage waterways throughout the state. In addition to supporting the environment around it, the river also allows for a variety of outdoor activities, including fishing, boating, kayaking, and rafting.

The Rio Grande is accessible from countless spots throughout New Mexico, and often serves as a reward at the end of a hike. This is the case at Diablo Canyon, where a three-mile trek will bring you right to the water’s edge. The arroyo (a dry stream bed occasionally filling with water) at the bottom of Diablo Canyon offers a relatively flat, sandy walk through towering cliffs of basalt. We decide to attempt the Diablo Canyon trek, agreeing that it would be worth it to emerge from the trail greeted by the Rio Grande at dusk.

The area is scattered with cholla, a common New Mexico cactus. It’s sunset, and the plants’ barbed arms are outstretched and aglow. Are they saying hello to us, or waving goodbye to the sun? We make our way into the canyon, and as the light fades, faces seem to form in the craggy walls—dark angular eyes, long noses, and broad, silent mouths. The steep, juniper-lined rocks are beautiful, but accelerate the darkness of the day. With nightfall approaching faster than expected, and no lamps or flashlights, we opt to head back. We are disappointed that we won’t return to the river tonight, but are comforted in knowing it will always be there waiting.