On Sunday, the drive to Pandale began with cool,
overcast skies and a misty drizzle. Puddles on the rock slab at the put in
indicated that there had been showers earlier, but it did not rain as we
loaded our canoes for a week on the Pecos. The new ramp off the west bank
of the bridge made access to the river bed more convenient that the last
time I was here.
The gauge reading on the internet showed that the river was at 250 cfs for
the beginning of this trip. The level was dropping and it would be about
230 cfs by the end of the trip. Although there is always a certain amount
of anxiety about whether the canoes will hold all the gear we have brought,
everyone got their canoes loaded and we were on the water by 10:30 am.
It was cool, like early November out here can be, but the temperatures were
in the 50's, and there was no wind as we approached the Mile One Rapid. Two
boats, Kevin and Dana, tandem, and Donna, solo, took the long channel to
the right, while the other two boats, Cliff and Marilyn, tandem, and myself,
solo, took the regular route down the rapid, Class II+. The rapid was hard
to see from above ans as soon as you appraoched to where it could be seen,
the swift current on the left side tried to sweep you under the brush. A
hard correction stroke kept you out of trouble, but then you had to negotiate
the two large rocks in the lower drop.
We waited a few minutes in the pool below the rapid while the other two boats
emerged from the cane-enshrouded channel. The first good rapid always sets
the tone for the trip. I think everyone breathe more easily as we set out
across the long pool ahead.
The Mile 3 cane chutes,
falling off on river left, had deep water and obscure routes. The cane hung
over the water so much that one had to duck to avoid the cane and still try
to steer the canoe in the winding course. Visibility ahead was severely limited.
Just go, hold the line on the "V", keep your head down and hope for the best.
We stopped for lunch on the gravel bar on river right below the Kidd house
on the bluff at Mile 4. The hectic nature of "getting started" eased into
a more relaxed paddle.
The Mile 5 ledge rapid looked difficult at this level. Two boats lined both
drops, two boats ran it. The water was more challenging and "pushier" than
at the usual low water levels.
Oppenheimer Rapid, Class II, at Mile 8, usually has a rocky spine to drag
over when the left channel shallows out, but at this higher level, the 40
yard rapid was runnable on the left side while making the 'jump' across the
spine about 3/4 of the way down, just before the final drop, was fairly easy.
Then, you had to make some quick maneuvers at the end to avoid the last rocks.
All made it okay.
The river was moving well and so were the paddlers. Mile 9 Rapid, Class II,
had plenty of water and was easily managed. Although the current was fast,
the route through the rocks was not hindered by narrow path among the rocks
and the shallow channels common in low water conditions.
The camp on the ledges at Mile 11 was reached a
little after 4:00 pm and the sky cleared a little as we set up tents and tables
on the high slab. It was a long first day, but we moved along well and negotiated
the trickier flow conditions without incident.
Day 2 began mild, calm and still overcast. We paddled the long pools and
gravel drops that are found in the next couple of miles without much trouble.
The bigger flow meant less scraping, although we did bump down the riffles
a couple of times. The boulder field of Mile 15 was much easier than usual
since there was plenty of water to avoid the submerged rocks that make this
section tricky. The final drop into the right hand chute, however, was still
quite shallow and required a drag to get over it.
We stopped for lunch at Goat Spring. The spring is easy to approach and we
topped off our water bottles since we feared that the springs downstream
would not be as accessible. The temperature seemed to warm a little and,
although it was still overcast, the wind continued to be mostly calm.
We entered the first section of the flutes and rode them out without too
much trouble. With more water in the river, the obvious routes became less
visible and it was somewhat more difficult to make your way in the deep channel.
A few times, we did have to drag and push to get back on track, but by following
the general rule of when to stay to the right and when to move the the center,
we made it through this section in fairly short order. With plenty of daylight
remaining, we pulled into the Qaurtz Camp in Mile 21 a little before 4:00
pm and set up camp on the small rock slab there.
The morning brought a continuation of the mild weather. Temperatures were
very comfortable and, though cloudy, there was little wind as we prepared
to leave the flutes and enter section where the main channel runs deeper.
Even on low water trips, when you drop into the fast right hand chute in
Mile 23, you know the going will be easier from now on.
On this third day, too, we would see the canyon walls rise and the river
move deeper into the remote terrain. We also planned to stop at our first
As we drifted along looking for the sign of the side canyon where we wanted
to stop, the higher water split the river in two channels with a brush-filled
island in between. While Kevin and Dana took the main channel on river right,
I slipped slowly along in the left channel, only to surprise a huge 8 point
buck who thought he was out of sight in the brush on the island while spying
the passage of the tandem paddlers in the river. With an explosive leap,
the buck, with pure panic in his eyes as he saw me floating up behind him,
bounded across the river in a few quick jumps to escape into the cane and
grasses on the left bank.
Dana spied the jeep road before any of us. He and Kevin pulled over upstream
while the rest of us pulled in downstream of the small side canyon that contains
the Piggy Panther shelter. The shelter is close to the river and, though
difficult to see unless you know where to look, it is a quick hike into one
of the more remarkable Pecos River style sites on the river.
After a good look at the pictographs, we pulled over for lunch in the large,
curving shelter at water level a short way downstream.
Within the next mile, we pulled over at the Harkell Canyon site. Although
the river cane has grown thick along the banks, a cut in the cane has been
made by the landowner at the precise spot in front of the shelter. Whether
that was intentional or not is unknown, however, it did appear, as we fought
our way through the undergrowth, that there has not been much traffic up
to the pictographs. There was a good jeep road on the gravel bar along the
east side of the river, and it appears that the clearing was cut in the cane
to permit the rancher to put his jonboat in the deep pool at Harkell Canyon.
This is a well known fishing hole and a green jonboat was tied up on the
west bank at the mouth of Harkell Canyon.
Although the Harkell Canyon site is known for its red monochrome pictographs,
we did notice that there was an extensive display of Pecos River style pictographs
that provided a very faint backdrop canvas for the more recent art. I walked
to the far upstream end of the shelter, and froze in place as Kevin, who
was following me, disturbed a local resident among the rotten tree limbs
in the sand. The buzz of the four foot rattler let us know to keep our distance.
Back into our boats, we immediately faced the Harkell Canyon Rapid, Class
II. As I dropped through the rapid first and was waiting in the pool below
for the others to come through, I was surprised to see a man walking along
the rock slab shelf of the west bank. When I asked him how he got down here,
he showed me his arm patch and said: "Border Patrol." He was walking this
section of the river looking for a group of illegal immgrants who were suspected
of being in the area. Another group of agents was searching the east side
of the river, but we had not seen them.
The Pecos is now in a narrower and deeper channel. The current is fast, but
not difficult. After our sight-seeing on this day, we were anxious to move
on downstream to camp. We came to Pin Rock Rapid, Class II, and, with more
water in the river, the rapid is less challenging to run. There is plenty
of water in the 'ramp' and it is easy to hang to the left-center route and
avoid the pinning rock on the right.
Just below the rapid is the peculiar phenomenon of Chalk Cave, a solution
cave in which the flowing water has created swirling sculptures in the soft
white rock. The left bank here is a smooth rock slab and we decided to make
an early camp here. As we set up tents, the sun broke through and sent bright,
warming rays against the wall behind us. The welcome warmth allowed us to
dry out some of our wet clothes and, well, to just relax.
The clear, starry night enticed Cliff and me to set up our sleeping bags
out under the stars. However, early in the morning the fog and mist set in
to bring the dawn with a heavy dew. I saw it coming about 3 am and crawled
into my tent for the last few hours. Although breakfast was without showers,
the misty fog kept all the gear damp as we put on the river.
Our fourth day was destined
to be a busy one. As we had expected, the spring at Mile 33 was nearly inaccessible.
We chopped back a large amount of dried, overhanging cane in order to get
to the base where water flowed. It was hard to get a clean source and most
of the water retrieved was full of sediment.
Within the next mile, we stopped at Camp Canyon to see the Lizard Man pictographs
on the canyon wall. A large pool of water at the entrance to Camp Canyon
made us walk a tricky path in the mud and grass for about 15 yards to get
to the easy walking beyond. Kevin and Cliff sent chills up our spines as
they demonstrated their rock climbing abilities to surmount the pouroff to
reach the upper section of the side canyon.
As we paddled on down to within a mile above Still Canyon, the canyon walls
narrow to tight pinch. It is here that the Ingram Ranch constructed a weir
dam across the Pecos in the 1930's in order to power a generator that supplied
electricity to the ranch. The flood of 1953 took out the dam and all traces
of the construction except for a section of the concreted ramp that can be
seen descending down the right bank.
We stopped at Still Canyon
to see the Electric Shaman site, but I was thorouuhgly dismayed, as I paddled
into the side canyon, to find the high grasses rising out of the mud and
the brush as thick as it can be. I was ready to pass on this one, but Cliff
was persistent. He wedged his boat into the bank and proceeded to hack way
at the tree limbs and brush. We jammed our boats together like a pontoon
bridge and managed to climb out, working our way up the high, overgrown bank
to the shelter above.
After we slipped back into our boats and dropped through Still Canyon Rapid,
Class II, we pulled into a high water slough (since I don't think it is there
in lower water) for lunch. The sun had burned off the mist and a warm sunny
day made this lunch spot seem idyllic. Far from the usual sounds of wind
and water, the chirping of birds fill the air. We could have lingered for
hours, but ultimately, we set off for our camp for the day at Lewis Canyon.
Lewis Canyon is only three miles below Still Canyon and the thought of another
early day was welcomed, especially now that the sun was out and the weather
was warm. We pulled up to the rock ledge below Lewis Canyon and set up camp.
With plenty of time before dark, we hiked up to the plateau above to see
the Lewis Canyon Petroglyph Site. The site is under a conservation lease
to the Rock Art Foundation which is adding protective structures to preserve
the petroglyphs on the site.
Although the skies stayed mostly clear during the early evening, clouds came
in during the night and a light rain fell. We awakened after the showers
had past, but the rain had made the thin layer of dirt on the rock ledge
where we were camped into a slippery, muddy mess.
We negotiated the Lewis Canyon Rapid, Class II, with most of us lining and
working our way down to the last drop and the final chute. Donna, however,
showed us that the whole rapid was runnable at this level, and she led the
We crossed the long pool below Lewis Canyon Rapid and pulled up on river
left to take a look at the powerful churning of Waterfall Rapid, Class III.
I lined my boat on the right side of the rapid while Donna skillfully ran
it in her solo boat. Cliff took his tandem boat down the rapid solo. Soon
after that, Kevin and Donna paddled the other tandem down the rapid. These
guys made it all look so easy.
This section of the Pecos is a serious pool and drop segment. Within a mile,
the pool drained off through the cane to river right. A steep, rocky channel
poured over a gravel drop of about ten feet. Even at low water, this drop
can be tricky, but with the larger volume, it took special care since the
top of the chute was cluttered with big rocks. Fortunately, the upper lip
is shallow and you can stop, step out and line up your boat to avoid hanging
or pinning on the rocks.
Just below Shackelford Canyon is the Ledge Rock Rapid, Class II, which can
be run by following the wave train in the right channel. Before you
can catch your breath, you come to the Long Chute. The Long Chute Rapid,
Class II, is a long 50 yard run of swift current and standing waves. Only
one pillow rock, about half way down, can spoil your run, but it easily avoided
if you pay attention.
Within another mile, Three Rock Rapid, Class II-III, offers a challenge to
your paddling skills. Keep your wits about you, go with the flow and negotiate
the rocks. It's an exciting run.
We paddled down to Painted Canyon for the camp that night. Because the access
to the rock bank on the right is less than accessible, we unloaded the boats
one at a time. When the gear was out of the boats, the boats were moved through
the Painted Canyon Rapid, Class III-IV. Kevin and I lined our boats along
the right bank to the eddy below the last drop. Donna paddled her solo boat
through the rapid backwards, just to show us how easy it is. And, Cliff took
his giant tandem down the same route, although he did it in a straight-forward
and more conventional manner.
In the morning, we carried all the gear to the lower eddy and loaded the
boats. It took about 45 minutes, but we were on the water by 9:00 am, just
as we had been each morning. As we approached the weir dam, I wondered if
the water, at this level, would be flowing over the dam along the full length
of the dam. With some surprise, the water was still a couple inches below
the top of the weir, and we had to lift our canoes over the top in order
to slide them down the opposite face.
The rapids below the weir dam were interesting, as always, and with the higher
water level, presented a couple difficulties. The wind had begun blowing
in our face and there was a chill in the breeze. A lunch spot with a wind
block and a sun exposure, no matter how small, was the order of the day.
We were in the former lake, now, and as we approahed Deadman's Canyon, it
was interesting to see how the river was re-establishing itself in the old
channel. The sand banks have built up and have become forested with willows
and other riparian species standing 30 to 40 feet tall. A couple small rapids
have reappeared and the section up to Deadman's Canyon, where the current
fades into the lake, is nearly unrecognizable as part of the former lake.
We reached the railroad bridge by 3:00 pm and it had been a long and tiring
day. However, I felt that we needed to take advantage of the daylight and
calm winds to move on beyond the treacherous, section ahead that can become
a dangerous wind tunnel. Although we had planned to camp near the railroad
bridge, we paddled on another hour to the grassy slopes at the end of the
sheer cliffs beyond mile 58.
In the morning of day seven, we paddled the final two miles to the boat ramp.
The calm and pleasant end to this remarkable trip was only topped by the
delivery of our vehicle to the boat ramp just as we approached. Emilio had
seen us coming as he descended the road to the ramp, and he waited for Kevin
and Dana who were the first to arrive.