For Labor Day Weekend, I told my
wife I would like to paddle our puddle duck for a short trip down
the Rio Grande . I should point out that we are novices at this.
I built the puddle duck over a year ago (Hull #240) and have only
been for two short (3 mile) jaunts down the river in it for Raft
The Rio (an event sponsored every year by the Southwest Environmental
||Muy Fragil before finished. My friends like
this one because you can see the name.
This trip turned out to be much longer than I expected. I had
talked to some friends who said something about kayaking from
the Radium Springs area down to La Llorona Park in Las Cruces.
When I asked them how long it took, they replied maybe about three
hours or so. I didn’t bother to check the distance until
after we made the trip. (I know, that was very foolish!) It turns
out it’s over 15 miles (I don’t know the exact distance)
and it took us 6 hours. Of course we weren’t paddling very
hard until the last hour or so of the trip. We only started paddling
hard at the end so we could get back to our truck before the park
closed! We just drifted for a good deal of the time. After talking
to my friends again, I discovered that I misunderstood where they
had started and they only went about half the distance we did.
No wonder it only took them about half the time!
||Me and my daughter with the boat shortly before
we put it in the water.
The Rio Grande moves very slow in this part of its course. People
who love to do white water or who are adrenaline junkies wouldn’t
find this trip very exciting. Despite the calm appearance of the
river though, it seems like someone drowns every couple of years
or so. The river can go from ankle deep to over a person’s
head in just a few feet.
And there are some very strong currents in places that can pull
someone under without any warning. Just a couple of weeks prior
to our trip, a seven year old girl was pulled under and downed.
A lot of places along the river are marked with no swimming signs.
||No Swimming sign.
My daughter’s raft got caught in some kind of current
that spun her around and trapped her next to the bank during the
last Raft The Rio. She said it took her about fifteen minutes
to get free of it. She finally managed to push against the bank
with her paddle and get loose, but she was wishing she had a longer
paddle or a pole while she was stuck there.
|| My daughter got more excited about seeing cows
along the bank than she did by anything else on this trip. We decided she doesn't get out
Had I known how long this trip was going to take, I might not
have tried it, or at least not on the day we did. But my wife,
daughter and I packed everything up and set off.
||This is my wife. You notice she is actually
||A picture of me in the boat
on the water
We started from a picnic/river day use area, Leasburg State
Park. The park is located by Radium Springs. There was a five
dollar fee for using the park. The park closes at 7:30 at night,
so I was thinking we had plenty of time to get back and get our
truck. It was extremely hot and we didn’t get on the water
until about noon. My original plan was to get started early in
the morning, which would have made the trip much more pleasant.
Well, everyone knows what happens to plans. We went to a college
football game the night before and didn’t get to bed until
midnight. But the late start and heat aside, we were rewarded
for our efforts with some incredible sights of Great Blue Herons
taking off across the water and some beautiful views of mountains
framed by the river as we drifted around bends.
||Shot of a Great Blue Heron standing near the
||Here is a Great Blue Heron in flight, but it
didn't come out very clear.
We saw families of ducks on the water and groups of swallows
performing aerobatics across the river. There were stretches where
the only sounds we heard were the sounds of the river. It was
extremely peaceful and I’m glad we made the trip.
||A shot of the river with the mountains far off
in the distance.
||This is a shot with the mountains getting a
||The mountains appearing closer.
Naively thinking that we would be done in three or four hours,
we didn’t eat lunch before we left. We did pack some bananas,
granola bars and chips, along with bottles of water. After we
had been out on the river for a couple of hours, I was wishing
we had stopped to eat at the picnic area, or had brought something
more substantial to eat on the boat. I told my wife we should
have brought some chicken with us. She wanted to know where I
had been three hours earlier when we were getting ready to leave!
We had enough water for the trip, but if we had been on the water
any longer we would have wanted more.
||This is just a general picture of the river,
but you can tell I live in the desert.
For a holiday weekend I expected a lot more people out on the
river. Perhaps they were a lot smarter than we were and finished
their activities in the morning hours. We only came across four
or five groups of people picnicking, fishing and/or camping. Most
of them seemed surprised to see us. We did come across one small
group with a person skinny dipping in the river. Fortunately we
were on the opposite bank of the river. The only part of the trip
that worried me was when we passed by a group bird hunting just
off the bank of the river. Initially we couldn’t see anyone,
but we could hear a lot of gun shots. Eventually we even saw a
couple of people standing close to the river, shooting. Lucky
for us they were aiming the other direction and we soon passed
by that area. We spoke to one person fishing on the river who
said he had seen someone come by about an hour before us, but
we never saw any other boats on the water during our trip.
||The Picacho Bridge
||Closeup on Picacho Peak.
||Another view of the Picacho Bridge
||This is a bridge we went under at the beginning
of the trip. I was a little nervous when we first saw it because the supports seemed so
||Here is a view of the Picacho Bridge with water
in the river, from Raft the Rio 2007.
Normally the flow of water on the river gets cut way back at
Elephant Butte reservoir around this time of year, but it was
still very full on this weekend. Once the flow is cut back it’s
impossible to do any paddling. The river in our part of the state
is a very muddy brown, not very pretty to look at. The banks on
both sides are generally covered with a lot of vegetation. Unfortunately
a lot of it is salt cedar, a non-native vegetation, that is very
aggressive, hard to get rid of, and extremely thirsty in its water
consumption. We did see some screw bean mesquite, cat tails, and
wild iris as well. There were a few areas where we encountered
a lot of insects. Fortunately we brought insect repellant and
sunscreen along. The skies were a little overcast for the first
part of our journey, but after a while the sun came out and at
times the heat was almost unbearable. This is when I was wishing
I had already followed David Routh’s advice and made a bimini
top for our puddle duck. There is a road that parallels the river
close by, so we were frequently reminded that civilization was
not far away. Overall though the traffic noise wasn’t bad
and wasn’t noticeable at all in a lot of places. There are
a lot of sand bars in the Rio Grande and we forced our way over
several of them, but we had to get out of the boat four different
times and drag the boat to get across some areas. The water was
only about an inch and a half deep in these places. The worst
of these was about fifteen yards across and it seemed to take
us forever to get over it before we could get back in the boat.
||The Rio Grande with the water level way down.
||This is a shot of the Organ mountains toward
the end of our trip. Unfortunately we were so tired when we got to La Llorona park,
we didn't take any pictures when we got there.
||View of the Organ mountains with snow on them,
from the park (looking East)
Ideally we would have preferred to finish our trip about three
hours after we started. After the first three hours we started
getting tired. Of course we didn’t make our daughter start
paddling until almost at the end. We decided next time we’ll
trade off paddling more, bring our son along, and either bring
a second puddle duck (whenever I get around to getting it built)
or bring our puddle goose (a 12 foot version of the puddle duck,
puddle goose #3 on pdracer.com). We would have brought the bigger
boat for this trip, but I’m still in the process of sanding
it down and resealing the outside. I was also wishing I had taken
a better camera. And I would definitely bring some thicker cushions
to sit on. Our backsides were sore by the time we finished!
||These pictures are all taken from La Llorona
Park, which is where we finished our trip and got out.
You may have noticed that I’m already talking about next
time. As tired as we were when we got out of the boat at the end,
we started talking right away about making the trip again and
what we’ll do different next time. I know this is nothing
compared to the Texas 200, but for a lazy afternoon of family
entertainment it was a lot of fun.
|| This is the Muy Fragile being launched for
Raft the Rio, from the same area in the park.
Las Cruces, NM