The Rio Chama is a major tributary of the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. It flows through a multi-colored sandstone canyon which is, at times, 1,500 feet deep and through a wilderness and wilderness study area. Towering cliffs, heavily wooded side canyons and historical sites offer an outstanding wild river backdrop for the hiker, fisherman, or boater. As with all my other Chama trips, stayed and launched from the El Vado Ranch.
As always, did not draw a permit during the lottery. Nor was I able to secure a week-day launch on Rec.gov. Had practiced the required steps and with the keyboard/mouse warmed up, was still unsuccessfull in snagging a mid to late May slot. They were gone within seconds. Fortunately rafting-buddy Mark snatched a May 8th Monday morning launch. There is no guarantee of raftable water levels for a week-day launch. However we were confident there would be since repair work on the dam forced the reclamation folks to release all incoming spring runoff. El Vado Lake was essentially empty and would stay so until the repairs were finished . The BLM allows for 1 launch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 2 for Sundays and Mondays. Recreation releases from El Vado Dam typically start early Friday morning and shut off on Sunday evening.
One caveat this trip was Mr. Cooper at the Ranch informed us that the dam release would be totally shutoff for 2-3 hours Monday morning. That meant if all worked as expected, we could not launch until mid-afternoon. Since we were the only cabin rental (high release level meant no fisherman), he told us to use the cabin as long as necessary. Which we did. Very interesting to watch the flow drop from 3000 CFS down to 51 CFS. Two and a half hours later, they turned the faucet on again. What was also interesting and unforeseen, was our ability to outrun the new release level. By the time we reached Ward Ranch, there was no water. Waited 15 minutes and the river rose a foot enabling us to continue downstream.
Camps were at Aragon and Chama Wall, both elite sites. In both cases, we had to juggle boats as the river rose substantially. At Chama Wall, the communal kitchen was moved and Mark's original tent site was under water. The river was outside it's banks in many locations and speed on the water was inspiring. Very little oaring to be done, only steering. Rapids were splashy but not difficult. We planned on spending a day at Chaco Canyon on the way back but the campground was full so we tried for the El Malpais and Lava Falls for a trip diversion. It was blowing 30 mph and 40 degrees and we wasted an hour driving around before calling it and getting a room in Grants. Back home by noon the next day.