The Great Rio Grande Canoe Hike

The weather is turning warmer.  Nights are still cool, but daytime temps reach 70 many days.  The snow is melting in the mountains, which means there is more water in the Rio Grande than there will be later in the summer.  It was time for an adventure canoeing down the Rio Grande.  There are no pictures of this adventure, the reason will become apparent as you read on.

This adventure was full of perils and excitement.  I’ve organized this post by the ordeals we had to overcome on this odyssey.  Ulysses had nothing on us!


I invited my friend Gregory to come along on the short and easy float down the river.  Richard and I loaded up the canoe, met Gregory, and drove down to Tingley beach, south of Albuquerque, where we left Gregory’s pickup truck for the return trip.  I scouted to make sure there was a clear path to the river.  As we were leaving, we noted that Tingley Beach closes at sunset, which would give us about four hours for the float.

Back at the parking area off Alameda Boulevard, we put the canoe into the water and immediately grounded.  There was indeed more water in the river than on last year’s adventure in June, but we had three people in the canoe instead of two, so the boat had a deeper draft.  No amount of pushing or jiggling would free us, so I got out into about 4 inches of water and pulled the canoe to a deeper channel.

The water may have been 4 inches deep, but the river bottom near the shore was covered with a fine sand, into which my feet would sink with every step.  It was quicksand, and when I stopped after guiding the canoe to deeper water, I quickly sank up to my knees in sand.  Fortunately, because the sand was under water, it wasn’t too difficult to extricate myself, though it did take a lot of effort and care to ensure my sandals did not remain at the bottom of the river.


Last summer we had to portage around the diversion dam.  The water pumping facility has a channel (for use by the endangered silvery minnow) that could be used to go around the dam, but it was dry last June.  Today it had plenty of water in it.  We exited the channel below the dam, but there was another waterfall!  I got the canoe pointed straight downstream, but as we went over the lip, the canoe bottomed out.  It started to turn broadside to the current, and water began pouring over the gunwale.  I thought we might be going in, but then the boat broke free and we escaped with only a few inches of water in the bottom of the canoe.

River Monster!

As we floated close to the eastern bank, something made a huge splash.  We could see the wake as it streaked toward the center of the river.  Was it a catfish?  A carp?  A muskrat?  Let’s just call it a river monster!

Attacked by Wildlife!

There were geese and ducks all along the river, which is covered by sandbars and dotted with small islands.  The ducks would fly away as we approached, but the Canada Geese would set up a loud honking.  As we passed one of the tiny islands, a goose came running down into the water, wings spread, neck outstretched, and bill open!  Possibly there was a nest on that island, though we did not see it.

The three of us probably would have been able to beat off an attack by a large waterfowl, but we were glad he did not press the attack as we drifted further away from his home.  Later, we did see a goose sitting on her nest on an island just like this one.  Her mate must have been away as there was no attack.

Later on, we saw a single downy, yellow gosling swimming next to the western bank.  Poor fellow looked lost.

By the way, though these are Canada Geese, they are not Canadian.  Living in the southwest USA, they are obviously American Canada Geese!

Walking on Water!

Despite there being more water in the Rio Grande, there are still many areas where the canoe bottomed out and someone had to get out and pull it.  After many episodes of getting in and out, we finally got out and walked on the stretch just north of the I-40 bridge.  It felt like we walked further than we floated, though I’m sure that is an illusion.  Walking on water has its perils, though.  One moment you are ankle deep, and with the next step you’re up to your knees, or even waist.


All that walking on water leaves one tired.  It involves a lot of getting out of and into the canoe.  It’s easy enough to step out of the cane into ankle deep water, but the getting in part is done in deeper water.  One time Richard was attempting to get in, lost his balance, and over we went – capsized!

This was the nadir of the adventure.  We were trying to stay close to the left bank, since that is where the deepest channel is reputed to be located.  A slight miscalculation led to becoming entangled in a thorn tree.  That probably led to impatience, tiredness and lapse in judgement leading to the overturned canoe.  The worst part was that the dunking caused our phones to get wet.  Richard’s phone survived; my iPhone did not.  I was using my iPhone to take pictures of the adventure, which is why there are no pictures.


By this time we were worried that too much time had gone by.  We needed to be at Tingley Beach by sunset to avoid being locked into the parking lot.  We are scanning the horizon for the next bridge.  It must be just around the next bend … perhaps the bend after that!  Finally, there is the bridge.  We are parked about a half mile south of the Central Street bridge.  Almost there!

By the time we pass under the bridge the sun has disappeared below the western horizon.  It’s still dusk so we hope the gate will not be locked yet.  However, the docking area (just a clear patch in the woods) does not appear.  Finally I get out on the shore to scout the land as Richard and Gregory continue down the river.  The canoe floats easier with less weight in it.

I find a path and meet up with the others at the river’s edge.  Richard and I carry the canoe through the brush and up onto a levee.  That fiberglass canoe is heavy after a day of paddling!    Nothing looks familiar.  We are on an irrigation ditch bank road, not the expected bike path.  Gregory and I decide to head south to try to rescue the truck.  Richard elects to stay with the canoe.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I have a GPS unit with me.  Did it survive the dunking?  Garmin builds their outdoor units to take abuse, and it was indeed functional.  I study the map, trying to overcome cognitive dissonance.  The GPS indicates we are not even close to the parking lot.  What has happened?  Then understanding dawns .. we are a bridge too short!  The bridge we had eagerly looked for and found was the I-40 bridge, but the Central Street bridge is over a mile to the south.  I return to Richard and explain.  We don’t want to carry that heavy canoe a mile or more.  We also do not want to be on the river after dark.  Richard will stay with the canoe, with his working cell phone.  I will catch up to Gregory and we’ll try to find a way to drive back to pick up the canoe.

Police!  Security!

After a mile hike on the ditch bank road, Gregory and I reach Central Avenue.  By good fortune, a police car had just turned onto Tingley Drive, on the other side of Central, where the officer made a U-turn.  Gregory and I waved, whistled, yelled and jumped up and down to get his attention.  He came over and I explained our dilemma.  The officer was doubtful anyone could be reached at this hour, but he put in a call to his dispatcher anyway.

I have to put in a good word for all the people that helped us in the Albuquerque Police (APD), Recreation, and Open Space departments.  Everyone was uniformly courteous and eager to help.  Like your mother told you, the policman is your friend.  That was certainly true this night.

The APD dispatcher arranged for Albuquerque Municipal Security to meet us at the Tingley Beach parking lot and unlock the gate.  The APD officer gave us a ride there, where we met Security Sergeant Angela Graham.  Sergeant Graham had arranged to have someone from Open Space division to come with a key.  Gregory retrieved his truck, and then Sergeant Graham called another person to come with the key to the gate to the ditch bank road where Richard was waiting with the canoe.  Then we were on our way to rescue Richard.

One more piece of excitement remained.  We found the canoe, but Richard was not there!  The security people went up the road looking for him while Gregory and I loaded the canoe onto the truck.  By the time we finished, they were on the way back with Richard.  Richard had gotten cold during the wait, had called his mother, and was on his way to meet her.

The rest of the adventure was unremarkable.  Sergeant Angela Graham actually thanked us for making Security’s night not as boring as usual!  The parking lot back on Alameda Boulevard was not locked, so we had no trouble retrieving my Trailblazer.  Then is was back home for hot chocolate, hot showers, and rest.

Adventure Map


Rio Grande Canoe Float

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