Paddling the Mighty Santa Fe River

May 28, 2010
Outside Magazine

Apparently the Santa FeRiver, a block from my house, is home to some of the best whitewater in NewMexico. This came as a great surprise to me as it “flows” through downtown at awidth half the length of my paddle. But the large man I met yesterday, kayakstrapped to the roof of his van and pony tail still wet from paddling, swore itwas so.

“The boogie water betweenDel Charro [a burger joint with great margaritas] Box Canyon and Double Whopper, thedrop under Saint Francis Street, is off the hook,” he said, explaining the bestway to run the biggest drops. “You got to run it.”

I asked him if hehad run the Embudo, the challenging local classic, and turned so he could see mysponsor-provided T-shirt. I wanted to be clear: kayaking any rapid that borethe name of the sandwich served at the Burger King it flowed past was going tobe a stretch for me. But he was convincing. He’d been watching the gauge (what,there’s a gauge?!), and the Santa Fe was at its best flow in years. It wastop-notch kayaking.

As of late, I’vebeen writing about some of the best places to kayak in the world, I’ve evenpaddled at a handful of them. The Santa Fe won’t ever make that list. Butthis guy embodied the bottom line of every river recommendation I’ve everwritten: kayaking (or mountain biking, or skiing, or trail running, or hiking)is about fun, no matter where you’re doing it.That whatthis kayaker cared about. He was so stoked. He was living the dream on the concreteand willow-choked Santa Fe River. All I could say was, “Right on.”

So I did the reasonable thing. I took his advice. I drank a beer, strappedmy kayak to the roof of the car and headed to the put-in, the soccer field onthe east side of town. The “boogie water” was not crazy, just painful fromgetting whapped by the willows the creek flossed through. But I was grinning. Thenthere was a legit waterfall—six glorious feet of vertical drop filled with fourhoses worth of water. I lined up, paddled off the lip, and landed while a kidon shore screamed, “Awesome!” And it was.


--Kyle Dickman

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