Welcome to Wilderness Wednesday, our weekly posting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
This week we are highlighting the Rio Chama Wilderness Study Area (WSA). Located in north-central New Mexico, this is a landscape of sagebrush-covered plains with a 900 foot deep canyon carved by the Rio Chama into colorful siltstone and sandstone. Piñon woodlands cover the hills, and forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the north facing slopes.
Though the Rio Chama WSA awaits Congressional action to become designated as Wilderness or to be allocated to other uses, Congress has already recognized this area's special values in two ways: First, the National Forest lands adjacent to the WSA were designated as the Chama River Canyon Wilderness in 1978; and secondly, the river corridor was designated as a "wild" Wild and Scenic River (WSR) in 1988. A "wild" river designation is the most primitive of river classifications under the WSR Act.
The access we are identifying this week is by boat – this is one of only two BLM-managed WSAs in New Mexico that have a boating opportunity. You may take your own (or rented) non-motorized boat down the river, but first review BLM's recommended river safety tips at the Rio Chama WSR website. A river trip on the Chama normally requires at least one night, and always requires a permit. For those who do not have boating experience, commercial services are available. Though commercial enterprises are normally prohibited in Wilderness by the Wilderness Act, commercial services to the extent necessary for realizing recreational or other wilderness purposes are allowed. Commercial guides and outfitters must hold a permit from the BLM and meet strict guidelines for equipment safety and guide experience. Click here for a list of permitted river guides and outfitters.
Those wishing to visit the WSA by boat will start their trip at Cooper's El Vado Ranch, which is privately owned and charges a fee. It is reached from Tierra Amarilla on US Highway 84 by driving west on New Mexico Highway 112 approximately 14 miles. Once on the river, the first take out is on National Forest land 22 miles downstream at Chavez Canyon south of the Christ of the Desert Monastery. For more information, please visit the Rio Chama WSA website.
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