Most of the year, the Rio Grande does not have a lot of water in it, but during the spring snow melt, the water is high enough for a pleasant canoe float. One can check the flow in the river at the Corps of Engineers web site, but I did not check it for this trip. A colleague at work told me that the flow was already dropping, and I wanted to do a float before it turned into a hike!
I should have checked the weather forecast! Who would have thought there could be any trouble on a nice, sunny day with a cool breeze blowing? Yes, it was a stiff breeze blowing upstream, but we were floating down the river, and expected the current to take us where we were going regardless of the breeze. After all, this was not a lake where you could get swamped with good-sized waves. If I had looked up the forecast I would have seen that the Weather Service had put out a wind advisory for the afternoon.
The plan was to put in at Alameda Boulevard and float down to Tingley Beach just south of Central Avenue. From my friend Marshall I expected one area of sandbars where we may have to portage, but the water was expected to be high enough not to cause problems. “Stay close to the east bank”, Marshall advised. “That’s where the deeper channels are.”
Richard and I were to float down the river, and Abigail would pick us up at the end. I got onto Google Earth and used the satellite photos to find the pickup spot. I copied down the Latitude and Longitude and keyed them into the GPS units. Richard and I would have one in the canoe so we’d know where to get out, and Abigail would have a GPS unit in the car to find the pickup spot.
We loaded up the canoe and went to the Alameda Open Space parking lot on the south side of Alameda Boulevard. Of course this was the wrong place, as the North Diversion Channel was between the parking lot and the river. It would have been a long ways to carry the canoe to the river. No problem — there is an access point on the west side of the river and north of Alameda, at the trail head for the Corrales Bosque Trail. Once there we met some folks just loading up their canoe. They had put in at North Corrales Beach and were getting out of the river where we planned to get in. “The wind is pretty strong”, they warned.
Rich and I carried the canoe down to the west bank of the river. We crossed under the Alameda bridge, and tried to paddle across to the east bank. That was not going to happen easily! With no obstructions along the river, the wind was blowing so strongly that we were afraid of being blown upstream! Worse, if we did not keep the canoe pointed into the wind, we would lose control of where the canoe would go. Crossing the river, with our beam to the wind, was a real challenge. Soon after reaching the east bank, we portaged around the diversion dam.
We got about to the Paseo del Norte bridge when Abigail called. The GPS was taking her over the mountain, and was that the right way to go? I checked my GPS, and sure enough the destination waypoint was east of the Sandias. I must have transposed a digit when copying the coordinates from Google Earth. Rich is holding on to a tree branch steadying the canoe while I am scrolling the 2-inch screen on my GPS trying to locate the destination. (We could not be floating down the river because it took two people to control the canoe in the wind.) Finally, success. I gave Abby the coordinates to key into her GPS and we were again on our way.
This wind was so strong that if we held our paddles up as sails we probably would be blown upstream. So it actually required paddling to make slow progress downstream. Every once in a while we would hit a sandbar and have to rock the boat off into deeper water. “It would be faster to walk!”, Rich exclaimed at on particularly shallow stretch. So we got out and pulled the canoe behind us. I was busy taking pictures in ankle deep water, when I took one step and was in up to my waist. Fortunately the camera did not get wet.
Progress was much slower than expected, so I decided to cut the trip short and get out at Montaño. I had not scouted this area and did not know where the access was, though Marshall had told me this is where he got out. I called Abigail and told her to meet us at the Montaño bridge. We selected the east side of the river to exit. Fortunately there was a fire access road that provided enough space to pull off Montaño, which is a limited access thoroughfare.
I looked up the weather report after getting home. Wind advisory was in effect. Wind speed was 22 mph in Corrales, and I bet it was faster on the river. I don’t think we were ever in danger, but the peaceful river float had turned into an adventure.