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America's Newest National Monument: The Rio Grande del Norte

Updated on May 3, 2013

First National Monument

Authorized in 1906, Devils Tower was the first national monument created in the United States
Authorized in 1906, Devils Tower was the first national monument created in the United States | Source

Five New Monuments

On March 25, 2013, President Barrack Obama created five new national monuments. Included in recent executive action are the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, the First State National Monument in Delaware, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, the San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington and the Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico. Unlike national parks and other sites, the creation of a national monument is an executive decision that does not require approval by Congress. This authority goes back to 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt was able to use the Antiquities Act to establish the Devils Tower National Monument. Since then many national monuments have been created by a variety of presidents.

Unusual History

This mural depicting Coronado's journey along the Rio Grande is on public display at the Taos Town Hall
This mural depicting Coronado's journey along the Rio Grande is on public display at the Taos Town Hall | Source

Early Conflict

In the spring of 1540 Coronado along with several other bands of Spanish explores entered what is now Arizona and New Mexico from Old Mexico. An expedition lead by Hernando de Alvarado journeyed up the Rio Grande and battled with Indians living along the river. Historians now believe that these natives were ancestors of the modern day Pueblos. From here the expedition continued northward in search for the fabled "Cities of Gold". These journeys laid the groundwork for Spanish settlements that began several decades later.

The Big River

The Rio Grande Gorge, as seen from the West Rim Trail near the town of Taos.
The Rio Grande Gorge, as seen from the West Rim Trail near the town of Taos. | Source

Along the Big River

The Rio Gande, known in Spanish as the Big River, begins in southwestern New Mexico and flows north to south across New Mexico towards El Paso, Texas. From this border town, the Rio Grande forms the International boundary between the U.S. and Mexico, finally reaching the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville.Along its 1900-mile journey the major tributary passes through many spectacular natural araeas and skirts several important municipalities such as Albuquerque and El Paso. South of the border, this river is called the Rio Bravo, which can be translated as the agitated or furious river.

Along the Rim

The rim of the Rio Grande Gorge is lined with volcanic rocks
The rim of the Rio Grande Gorge is lined with volcanic rocks | Source

The New Park

From the Colorado state line to the Orialla Verde Recreation Area, south of Taos, the Rio Grande becomes a wild and raging river with rapids raging from Class II to V and beyond. White water rafting companies abound in the Taos area, where experienced guides run the box, a section of rapids that begins at the John Dunn bridge and continues south to the Taos Junction bridge and beyond. Not only is this a wild and wet wild through very scenic country, but also there is an abundance of wild life that can be found here. This includes cougars, eagles, coyotes, elk, rattlesnakes, roadrunners and many species of game fish. Hiking trails are common in the area especially along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. Now that this place has been put into the national monument category, little should change here except maybe an increase in visitors.

Vast Area

The Rio Grande Gorge with San Antonito mountain in the background
The Rio Grande Gorge with San Antonito mountain in the background

Taos Plateau

The Rio Grande Gorge is a spectacular chasm that has been carved by the river through the Taos plateau. Besides exploring the river bottom, visitors might want to explore the northern part of the park, where the vast lava plain is interrupted by several volcanic peaks that rise several thousand feet above the surrounding countryside. Of most interest to hikers might be Cerro del Aire and Cerro de la Olla, which can be accessed by a dirt road from highway 64. Also of interest is San Antonio mountain. This massive mountain is just outside the monument boundary, but can still be reached by a series of jeep trails that crisscross the plateau.

Dry Soils

Tire tracks near the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge
Tire tracks near the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge | Source

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