Rio Chama River - El Vado Ranch to Big Eddy - May 11, 2009

Third year in a row to do this designated Wild and Scenic river. Naturally, none have been via the official lottery system. Call-in or launch before permit season seems to be the only method for me. Same people as last year with Duncan from Ft Worth, Jimmy from San Angelo, and Lucy making up the group. Duncan brought his 16 foot cataraft while I had the 14 foot cat and 10 foot play-cat for Jimmy. As compared to last year when temps were well below freezing at night, this was a warm one. The warm temperatures drove the highest water levels since the early seventies and the second highest since the forties. Was hoping for 1000 CFS and were not sure if that would even happen. Stunningly, flow went from 500 as we packed to 6000 when we arrived. Five times the normal flow for this time of year.

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. This year, more than one person commented to us that the "Reclamation folks really screwed up". 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.

The flow was the topic of nearly every conversation. Water so unusually high that the Ranch was sandbagging the lower cabins as the water was lapping at foundations. Fishing had essentially stopped and boating trips were having high-water cancellation discussions. We launched but changed personal and boats. Lucy did not feel comfortable and spent the weekend in Santa Fe. In good faith, I couldn't let first time rower Jimmy alone in his own boat. So Jimmy took over Lucy's seat and the trip was on.

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 (505-588-7704) 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.

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Trip report image
USGS flow link image