One-Day Blasts: Workman's Comp

New Mexico's Taos Box, a better way to spend your 9 to 5

I FIRST HEARD about the Box at the end of a cold, rainy Gauley season in West Virginia. Six of us river guides were sitting under a tarp in a rafting company's gravel parking lot, playing poker and talking about rivers we were dying to run. At the top of most everyone's list was the Rio Grande through the Taos Box, a sheer, 800-foot-deep canyon cutting 17 miles through a lava plateau west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We agreed to kayak it the following summer, but three years went by before we actually made it to New Mexico.
We put in at the crack of dawn and let the silty water carry us past blooming cholla cactus and sage. After several miles, the riverbed constricted and the rapids began dropping steeper and faster, now Class III-IV. We corralled in the calm water above Powerline Falls, a 14-foot cascade, to hear instructions from Jake, who'd run the Box before ("Start center. Angle right."), and again above three-quarter-mile-long Rock Garden ("Look for the munchy hole in the center, halfway down."). And we cleaned 'em. With four miles to go, the canyon walls had turned almost black in the afternoon shade, and we charged the continuous rapids Blue Angel-style, hopping between eddies and boofing small ledges without stopping.
In the final half-mile, the Rio squeezes through one last channel, rounding a sharp bend. I entered the rapid and, with no eddies to catch, aimed blindly downstream. Harv, a 200-plus-pounder who favors tiny kayaks, took it straight on, just to the right of me. Midway through, he dropped over a surging pour-over and disappeared. "Harv!" someone yelled from upstream. I turned, fighting the current. But within seconds, Harv popped to the surface, helmet askew on his big round head, grinning and cackling. The Box will do that to you.
DETAILS: Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works in Santa Fe (505-984-8221) rents kayaks for $25 per day. Kokopelli Rafting Adventures (800-879-9035; www.kokopelliraft.com) runs one-day raft trips through the Box for $95 per person from May through July. The World Outdoors (formerly The World Outside) runs a six-day multisport trip in New Mexico, including a day on the Taos Box, in June, August, and September, for $1,650 per person (800-488-8483; www.the worldoutdoors.com).

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