Section 10: Rio Grande Village to Langtry
Morning greetings from the cows. A stampede of nine intercepted our path as we crossed a pasture on the river. We’d heard stories about the rogue cattle in this section that race across the river right before groups of boaters (or hikers in our case) come floating down. This group seemed more scared of us, despite the fact that some of them were HUGE. The emaciated scavenger cows of the Lower Canyons were no more.
Today Corey was trying to capture on video our hilarious movement through the cane. Right on cue we stumbled into an especially horrendous patch.
Is the recorder on?
At times we were suspended three feet in the air, on a mass of strong shoots, crawling forward with our feet above our heads. All three of us battled for at least 15 minutes to get through a 20ft wide thicket. The exit was the best part, at some point we realized there was no longer ground beneath us, only cane, so we kicked a hole through the mess and shot downward until we felt the wet Rio.
A dam across the river made for an exciting obstacle. It was a low head dam which isn’t an impassable obstruction (especially with Zak and Corey who are impressive boaters) but it could be dangerous. The surface level only dropped about a foot, barely detectable on the upstream horizon when approaching. The concrete structure spans the length of the river and creates a uniform hydraulic below, leaving no break in the recirculating wave for a person to be spit out if catastrophe happens. We coaxed one boat down at a time, cheering when the boats crested the dam and dropped safely past the frothing waves below.
Two guys who we thought might be with the International Boundary Water Commission handled the dam like the pros they are. They were measuring the depth of water above the structure and one guy took unlabored steps forward through the swift current while balancing gauging tools. They acknowledged us and we waved back, wishing they could hear us over the roar of the water so we could ask about their job!
Corey got back on the river after lunch to help with the boats. The cliffs along the river were tall and white, with smooth pockets carved out at water level by eons of current. The river was wide and calm and blue and hosted a Noah’s Ark of turtles, catfish, blue herons, ducks and hawks. In one memorable spot the cliff/water white and aqua blue tableau so perfectly mimicked the color palette of the Mediterranean that Corey had to get the drone out again and film us walking along the top. Cue camera and action!
A spring! There’s no guidebook for this section of the river so we were on the lookout for a water source and were about ready to filter from the Rio if all else failed. There’s enough pollution and salinity in the river that we definitely wanted to avoid this last resort scenario. When Tenny and Claire came across water leaking out of a muddy indention by a side drain we whooped and yelled, excited that we wouldn’t need to drink the water we had been peeing in anytime soon.
By late afternoon we were fed up with the hiking. The thorns and cane felt thicker again and the previous days had taken their toll on our patience. Instead of making us tougher they had just tired us out! The river curved way to the right, then way to the left and when we tried to cut off the river bends we ran into a tangle of thorns or a 15ft deep wash that cut across our path. Huge tracks of land had been burned, creating a scorched, hellish looking landscape. The biggest trees were charred black, only thorns remained and white ash blew across the barren ground.
The burning is part of a cane management program, right? We weren't certain it was working because in spite of the effort big thickets of cane still remained, stubbornly clinging to the sandy soil.
In an act of desperation we decided to screw walking by the river and used a wall of cane to boost ourselves up a cliff. Off we went climbing higher and higher to bypass everything. The rest of the day was spent avoiding the river completely aside from crossing occasionally at the most efficient point. It was peaceful up there on top with a view of the boaters way down below and the cattle traipsing through the tangle. You half expected a Mexican cowboy to ride elegantly into the scene with a guitar, singing in harmony with the river.
Not the best camping options. The banks were high and the goofy feral pigs didn't strike us as the best companions. We found a small island in the center of the river and camped in a chorus of frogs.