liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,
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Rio Chama and the Clay Road to El Vado Dam



This mellow float is one of my very favorite river runs, largely because Northern New Mexico is so gorgeous and there's hardly anyone there. From El Vado Dam to the takeout below the Monastery is 31 miles and 3 days of class I and II.

To check the flows in the Chama below El Vado Dam:

http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nm/nwis/uv/?site_no=08285500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060

I made the trip out there with a girlfriend who is an Arizona native. She has been griping for some time on her blog about not having any adventures this summer, so it is to her credit that I bummed my way onto this river trip by asking a client if there was any space. I wouldn't have asked for the spots if I didn't think that she would also love this trip.

I forgot the directions to find the putin. They were on my desk at work when I got back after the trip. I realized I couldn't find them when we got to Albuquerque on I-40, so I just picked a route on the Indian Country map that looked direct. The road numbers seemed equally unfamiliar to me. What I failed to notice was that toward the end of the nice straight route that I had chosen, there was 12 miles of "graded dirt". When we got close to the dirt section we had an option to go an extra 30 miles to stay on pavement. Being naturally adventurous I said "Let's take the dirt". I was driving at that point, and didn't get any argument even though it was her truck.

The road was broken up pavement for a bunch of miles then it turned to dirt. At first the dirt wasn't too bad, but then it started to get slimy. You could tell that there had been a big monsoon storm earlier that day. I was driving so I knew from the start that it was clay. Clay has that particular sticky slimy feel to it, even when you're driving on it. It got worse, then better again, then worse again. There was 3-4 inches of soft wet stuff on top, and dry hardpack underneath. Two vehicles had driven the road ahead of us, and you could tell by the tracks that they were big wide four wheel drives. Her truck is a little two wheel drive toyota truck---just like mine except mine has power steering. I was driving maybe a little faster than I should about 8 miles into the dirt section when I tried to cross from the right side of the road to the left and got stuck in the ruts. We were cruising along at maybe 20 miles per hour in the rut, with the steering wheel turned hard left and my foot on the gas, trying to climb out of the rut without loosing my speed. Of course suddenly the front wheels caught and the front of the truck was headed for the left ditch. Big deep ditch, no way out. I compensated as fast as I could (this is where the power steering would have really helped a lot) but by the time I got the front end back in line the back end was sliding sideways. I worked my ass off through a couple of swerves just trying to keep out of the ditch on one side and then the other and finally came to rest. In the road, not the ditch. Put on the emergency brake and turned off the truck. Asked my friend to take my pulse----it was racing. I needed to pee. I got out of the truck to release some liquids and tension and so did she. She hadn't known the road was clay and when she tried to step over the ditch she landed on her ass in the mud. Good thing she's a tough Arizona girl.

So my rugged girlfriend knew exactly what to do. Under her instruction we gathered the twiggy dead upper parts of sagebrushes, and made a track of the twigs in front of each drive wheel. After a good break and mud treatment, when our pulses were back to a reasonable rate, we got back into the truck. I suggested she should drive since it is her truck and she knows the clutch. I'm sure she was grateful that I didn't get macha about it and want to prove myself by driving it into a ditch. She drove it gently out without a hitch. It was probably two more miles of slime before we got back to a harder surface. The road that we drove goes across El Vado dam, which is where the flows for the run are controlled.

Releases on the Chama are purely for agriculture in the valley below. They try to be nice to the boaters and let it run through the weekends when lots of people are out there, but when it rains they shut the dam off, and when it gets hot and dry the water is high. When I ran the Chama before, with my friend Matt, the water was 2,000 CFS because it was a hot dry July.
Tags: driving, new mexico, rain, recreation, river
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