This is actually one of my favorite river sections. Not for the whitewater or that it is particularly world-class, but that it has sandstone cliffs yet is not a desert river. Ponderosa pine, meadows, high elevation, rustic cabin to rig in, wild and scenic designation, it all adds up for me. Plus this trip, Lucy made a rare and welcome addition. It was a two-boat, four-person, 3-day journey. The nights, especially the first two, were quite cold with the days being sunny and in the high 60's/low 70's. Just perfect.
El Vado Reservoir releases determine the flow on this section. The Bureau of Reclamation manage the dam and releases. Ed (505-462-3586) and Ray (505-462-3582) were my contacts at estimating probable releases. This appears to be non-trivial and driven by legal contracts, local water conditions, and the weather. Although the predicted 3, 4, and 'even' 5 thousand CFS didn't happen, it was a very acceptable 1200 below the dam. The BLM Taos office (the new 2017 BLM web page) is the river manager with Pat being the permit manager. For midweek trips, the BLM allows 3 launches per day except for Thursday where only a single group launch is allowed.
Numerous side drainage's added 75-150 CFS to the dam release of 1200. Although long-time friend Duncan had been on two other river trips, this was the maiden voyage for his cat and gear. Jimmy, another navy buddy from the past, drove up from San Angelo for his first river trip. I can't imagine better flows to learn rafting with as the worst of the rocks were covered, good flow without being too pushy, and yet enough action to have consequences.
The rustic El Vado (Cooper's) Ranch located just below the dam served as lodging, shuttle parking, and shuttle intermediary. Up the Creek Shuttle Service (575-588-7704) provided the shuttle. Cost was $80 and there were no issues. I would not hesitate to use either business again. The drive from the dam to Big Eddy is approximately 1 hour each way and includes 6+ miles over a good dirt road.