By Scott Gerdes
Hundreds of feet beneath a steel deck arch bridge. The Río
Grande (“Grand River”) snakes and tumbles over
boulders and smaller rocks on its 1.900-mile journey
from the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains
in southwestern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico
in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is one of the
longest rivers in the country.
The Río Grande Gorge. which runs northwest to
southeast through the Taos area, is about 50 miles
long. The river was made a part of the National
Wild and Scenic River System in 1968, among the
first eight rivers Congress designated under that
system. This river is managed by the Bureau of Land
The water came into the rift valley after being created
by faulting and volcanic activity due to separation
in Earth’s crust when the North American and Pacific
plates scraped against each other some 29 million
years ago. Those tectonic plates still show some
activity. as evidenced by the sustained hot springs in
the area. such as at Ojo Caliente and the Man by Hot
Springs near the John Dunn Bridge (in Arroyo Hondo,
just north of Taos off State Road 522).
The canyon ecosystem descends 800 feet from
rim to river. creating a unique diversity in plant and
animal life. It is home to ancient piii6n and juniper
forests. Wildlife includes mule deer. red-tailed hawk.
mountain blue bird, cutthroat trout, prairie dog,
river otter. bald eagle and Rocky Mountain bighorn
sheep. A good place to view bighorns is the West Rim
Trail that extends from the rest area west of the Rfo
Grande Gorge Bridge and runs south along the canyon
rim to State Road 567 above the Taos Junction
Bridge in Pilar.
The Río Grande Gorge Bridge was erected along U.S.
64 in 1965. It sits 650 feet above the Río Grande
and spans 1.280 feet. It is the second-highest bridge
on the U.S. highway system and is the fifth-highest
bridge in the country.
The fabled overpass has had cameos in many films,
beginning with “Easy Rider· (1969). That appearance
was followed by others in “Twins; “She’s Having a
Baby; “Natural Born Killers; “Wild Hogs; “No Country
for Old Men; “Terminator Salvation; “Paul” and “This
Must be the Place:
Besides the bridge, other good places to view the Río
Grande Gorge are the overlook on State Road 68,
about 8 miles south of Ranchos de Taos, and The Wild
Rivers Recreation Area. about 35 miles north of Taos.
To get to Wild Rivers. drive north toward Questa on
State Road 522 to another 3 miles on State Road 378.
At La Junta Point. the Red River converges with the