The Río Grande del Norte National Monument was established on March 25, 2013 by Presidential Proclamation. The monument includes approximately 242,500 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The landscape is comprised of rugged, wide open plains at an average elevation of 7,000 feet, dotted by volcanic cones, and cut by steep canyons with rivers tucked away in their depths. The Río Grande carves an 800 foot deep gorge through layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash. Among the volcanic cones in the Monument, Ute Mountain is the highest, reaching to 10,093 feet.
This part of the Río Grande has attracted human activity since prehistoric times. Evidence of ancient use is found throughout the area in the form of petroglyphs, prehistoric dwelling sites, and many other types of archaeological sites. More recent activity includes abandoned homesteading from the 1930s.
Lying between the San Juan Mountains to the west and Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east, the Monument straddles the northern end of the Rio Grande Rift - a 600-mile long tear in the North American continent, which has resulted in most of the geological features you see in the Monument.
The Monument is an important area for wintering animals, and provides a corridor by which wildlife move between the two mountain ranges. The varied landscape creates habitat for a wide variety of species. Cottonwoods and willows grow along the rivers, piñon and juniper woodlands at middle elevations include 500 year-old trees, and mountaintops are forested by ponderosa, Douglas fir, aspen, and spruce. Wildlife, including raptors, songbirds, waterfowl, beaver, river otter, ringtail, prairie dog, cougar, black bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, and many more species call the Monument home.
The unique setting of the Monument also provides a wealth of recreational opportunities. Whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, hiking, and mountain biking are some of the more outstanding activities that can be enjoyed in the Monument. The Wild Rivers Recreation Area at the confluence of the Río Grande and Red River includes campgrounds, scenic viewpoints, and hiking trails. La Junta Point, at Wild Rivers, provides a dramatic vista of the confluence of the two rivers, and is wheelchair accessible. The Orilla Verde Recreation Area includes campgrounds near the river’s edge, as well as boat launches. The Taos Valley overlook provides stunning views and trails for hiking and mountain biking.
A major part of the Monument’s acreage lies west of the Río Grande. Here, seclusion is easy to find, with access only on rough dirt tracks or gravel roads. This is where you are most likely to see the vast herds of elk that bring hunters to the region. The many volcanic cones also provide an opportunity for peak climbing with nine peaks over 8,000 feet.
The Monument includes the Río Grande Wild and Scenic River and Red River Wild and Scenic River, designated by Congress in 1968 to provide present and future visitors the opportunity to experience the beauty of rivers in a natural free-flowing state.