We left Cochiti Lake Campground and headed north towards Taos. Rio Grande River accompanied us by Highway 68. When the highway climbed up to the Taos Plateau, a wide opening cutting across the plateau came to our vision. It was the Rio Grande Gorge!
As we came to the road to Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, Stephen said, “It looks just like what I thought!” He and his friends camped at Wild Rivers Recreation Area some 40 years ago. The landscape hasn’t changed a bit. Among the mountains are open land studded with pinyon pines, junipers, and sagebrush.
Our truck drove close to Bear Crossing Trail. Stephen said that might be the spot where they camped. He remembered there was a rise of hill. We went to the La Junta Overlook first and the vista was breathtaking. 800 feet below the sheer cliffs are Red River and Rio Grande River. They look like slim white ribbons. Two rivers run through its own terrains and confluence here. The sound of rivers reverberated in the gorge. Volcanic basalt rocks on the cliffs suggested a violent fiery history. The Taos volcanic field covers 7,000 km2,and it is the largest volcanic field in the Rio Grande rift. The volcanos can be seen from the overlook on Highway 68.
We looked at the campgrounds in the area and finally settled down on the El Aguaje. It sits on the rim of the gorge where Red River lies, and it has a nice view of Taos Mountains on the east. Hummingbirds flew to the tail light on the trailer thinking it was a red flower. The sound of hummingbird is a sharp and quick tweet. I heard them first before seeing them. We found a big stack of firewood left on a nearby campsite. Sitting by a nice campfire and enjoying a spectacular sunset were some of the best parts of camping life.
The morning sun made the green cottonwoods glowing on the distant Tao Mountains. A couple of geese flew south along the gorge. It was cloudy and breezy. We rode our bikes for 6 miles on the road. It was hard at the beginning because of uphill. I was glad that Stephen was able to ride the bike at an elevation above 7,000 feet. The view at Chawalauna Overlook was also gorgeous. Rio Grande meanders through the gorge and runs south. A group of yellow green cottonwood were by the river. A big wall of basalt cliff was separated from the landmass. It might tumble down any time. The day was wrapped up with another campfire with baked sweet potatoes.
On the day we left, we stopped by the Bear Crossing Trail. Volcano cliffs are narrow in the gorge at this spot. Stephen looked around this area and tried to recall the spot they camped. He believed that this was the area they camped. There were no trails nor toilets back then. They hiked down to the river. Now here he was, 40 years later, stood on the same spot and reminisced. How time flies!
At the Sheep Crossing Overlook, Stephen walked to the rim first. When I got there, he told me that he saw a Bobcat! We bid farewell to Wild Rivers Recreation Area and drove through Taos heading south. After passing the overlook of the gorge on Highway 68, the downhill road turns around a steep cliff. “There they are!” Stephen yelled. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Four bighorn sheep were climbing down the cliff. Soil on the cliff would crumble under their hooves. We were expecting to see them by the gorge, but this was a totally unthinkable place to see them up close. What a memorable Nat Geo moment!
Crossing the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge was a little bit scary at first. Completed in 1965, the bridge stands 650 feet above the the Rio Grande River, it is the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System and the fifth highest bridge of the nation (taos.org). The majestic three-span steel bridge crosses the gorge defiantly. The 600 feet long center span won it an award “the Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” in the “Long Span” category from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1966.
We put our feet on the bridge and walked to the center of it. Rio Grande River was straight down below our feet. 650 feet below, the white water was cascading at the bottom of the gorge. A couple of bighorn sheep were grazing among the sagebrush by the west rim. The view from the bridge was unparalleled with the majestic Sangre De Cristo Mountains on the east, Rio Grande River down below, the spectacular gorge in the center, and the big horn mountain sheep on the rim, as well as turkey vultures hovering above. Our memories of Wild Rivers were made with new images of this landscape.