The remarkable Rio Grande Gorge area of New Mexico offers great natural outdoor opportunities to explore, from whitewater rafting, hiking, thermal hot springs to crossing over one of the top 10 highest bridges in North America.
How was Rio Grande Gorge formed?
Marvel at the geological features of faulting and extensive signs of volcanic activity in the region. The rugged terrain of vast plains, rivers and steep canyons is scattered with resting volcanic cones.
The highest cone, Ute Mountain, rises high above grassy meadows, stands of pinyon, ponderosa and white pine, as well as aspen and Douglas fir. The volcanic cone is about 3,000 feet above the ground, reaching an altitude of 10,093 feet.
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The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
The impressive long span Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, called the “most beautiful steel bridge” in North America, offers stunning views of the Rio Grande Rift.
Take a walk over one of the top 10 highest bridges in North America. The views from the nearly 600-foot-high bridge are breathtaking in every direction.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are viewed to the east.
What tectonic plates formed the Rio Grande rift?
The Rio Grande Rift is a deep fault line which runs the entire length of New Mexico. This fracture is evidence of geological volcanic rock tectonic plate movement of the Colorado Plateau pulling away from the Great Plains. As the two pulled to the east and to the west, a deep crevasse was created by the earth’s crust falling into the opening.
At it widest point, near Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Rift stretches almost 40 miles across. Read more about the geology of the land.
What formed the Rio Grande Gorge and the numerous volcanoes in the surrounding area?
The National Park Service says, “New Mexico is one of the most geologically active areas of the forty-eight contiguous states.”
The earth’s plates are still moving and the rift expands at a rate of about an inch every 40 years. Seismic activity is actively monitored along the rift for earthquakes.
Twenty-nine million years ago the Pacific and North American plates started to move and scrape against each other faulting the crust of the earth by friction.
See the satellite map below.
The Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River is the fifth longest river in North America. The river runs about 1,900-miles-long from its source in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.
White Water River Rafting can be done in the Upper Gorge, Taos Box or in the Lower Gorge. Here you can experience a range of Class II to V rapids.
Some of the best trout fishing in New Mexico is found along the Rio Grande River.
Rio Grande Natural Hot Springs
Take advantage of a number of geo-thermal fed hot springs and day spas in the Taos area near Arroyo Hondo.
Try Black Rock Hot Springs, a popular spot, or Manby Hot Springs which is accessed only from the river or one of the Ojo Spas.
Read more about the hot springs in New Mexico.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
The Rio Grande Gorge area is home to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Download a map of the area.
The Rio Grande National Wild and Scenic River System in found within the National Monument.
There are plenty of hiking trails to explore in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Before hiking here, you should get acclimated to the higher altitude.
The South Rim Trail is an easy to moderate nine-mile hiking and bike trail. The trail starts at the parking lot of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and runs south to Orilla Verge Recreation Area. Find out about more trails in the area.
Watch for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep often spotted in the Rio Grande Gorge.
Camping is available in two locations: Wild Rivers Recreation Center and Orilla Verde Recreation Area. Find out more about camping in the area.
Astronaut Training in the Rio Grande Gorge Area
The area’s unique geology is used to train astronauts to recognize, understand and record what they see from space and in the field. The Rio Grande Rift acts as a substitute for other planets’ geological features of faulting and the extensive volcanic activity.
In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts came to study impact craters and volcanic areas in preparation for their moon landing. The Apollo 15 mission was the first to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Find out more about the Apollo 15 mission here.
Astronaut candidates came in the summer of 1999 to help prepare them for finding water on Mars. Find out more about their geological findings.
Fast Facts about Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
- The impressive Rio Grand Gorge Bridge is the seventh highest bridge in the United States. This claim has been disputed, but the bridge is on the top 10 list.
- The bridge soars nearly 600 feet above the Rio Grande River and has a span of 1,280 feet.
- The long span bridge was recognized as the “most beautiful steel bridge” in 1966 by the American Institute of Steel Construction.
- The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is part of US Route 64.
How to get to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is located 12 miles outside of Taos, New Mexico.
This rugged, scenic area of northern New Mexico is near the state line of Colorado and New Mexico. On our 2,500 mile southwestern road trip, we travelled to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge via Highway 64, on our way from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Durango, Colorado.
A parking lot is located on the southwest side of the bridge.
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