State 20 of 50: New Mexico – The San Juan River

Great fishing and nice scenery but a bit short on wildness.
Date Paddled:  March 30, 2017
Nearest City:  Farmington, NM
Put-In:  Crusher Hole boat ramp  (Rt. 511)
Take-Out:  U.S. 64 bridge in Blanco, NM
Duration:  6 hours
River Miles:  15 miles
Shuttle:  2 cars (approx. 15 miles)
Weather:  60s, ptly cloudy & breezy
Difficulty:  quickwater, class I & I+
Cfs:   1500

By Peter

The San Juan is a world-class trout fishing stream that flows out of the mountains of southern Colorado and through the still waters of Navajo Reservoir before traversing the four-corners region on it’s way to join the Colorado River in southern Utah.  The section we visited in northwestern New Mexico begins as the outflow from the Navajo dam and provides about 80 miles of generally easy floating and paddling as it transitions from forested mountain terrain to the desert canyons to the west.DSCN5102We put in several miles below the dam, avoiding the section of tailwaters reserved for anglers, and found ourselves swept quickly along by a good and continuous current with some occasional easy riffles and rapids.  Unfortunately this section of the San Juan resides in a moderately populated agricultural valley which, though scenic at its margins, presented us with nearly continual views of houses, power lines, cell towers, and other trappings of civilization.   Paddlers seeking wildness and solitude should look elsewhere (including, perhaps, the lower San Juan in Utah – a classic canyon/whitewater trip).DSCN5143One challenge we encountered along the way developed after we mistakenly floated into a diversion canal used for irrigation.  Separated from the main river channel by both increasing distance and elevation, we found ourselves being swept rapidly through a narrow channel toward a low diversion dam.  We quickly pulled over to scout – the dam looked like an easy portage but the overflow stream, leading back (presumably) to the main river channel, seemed sketchy.  So we elected to drag our boats a hundred yards or so through the thorny riparian underbrush to get back on the San Juan.  Thereafter we kept a keen eye out for suspicious looking side channels and managed to stay in the main flow the rest of the way.DSCN5123There was one additional low dam that required a rather laborious portage on river-right.  This one might have been runnable through a somewhat imposing-looking sluiceway that seemed to be open and free of obstructions – but this wasn’t obvious until we had the view from downstream.DSCN5164Despite the proximity to civilization we saw lots of birds, including many herons, kingfisher, various geese and ducks, and the ubiquitous but always delightful red wing blackbirds.  We also saw muskrats swimming with us in the cold, silty water.  Unfortunately there was also some trash along the banks in places.  DSCN5097As we continued downstream, the terrain flattened out somewhat and the scenery became less enthralling.  We passed what turned out to be a much better take out – a newly-developed boat launch that would have shortened our paddle by a merciful 4 miles or so.  We were unable to determine the road access to this site but would recommend this as a better take out for this trip.  As it was we had to pay the campground owner in Blanco $20 for permission to park and pull our boats out at route 64. While this wasn’t our favorite paddle, it was still better than going to work!


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