Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument protects an enormous range of geological, cultural, ecological, and wildlife treasures, including portions of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River. You can find petroglyphs, evidence of the Rio Grande Rift, and more than 40,000 acres within the monument have been designated as the Upper Rio Grande Gorge Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. It encompasses approximately 242,555 acres in north-central New Mexico. It was established in 2013 and is administered by the BLM as part of the National Conservation Lands program.  

This area includes a wide range of elevation and ecosystems, from riparian areas within the up to 800-foot deep Rio Grande gorge to subalpine conifers at the higher elevations. The average elevation in the monument is over 7,000 feet, and Ute Mountain at 10,093 feet is a primary feature of the site. Other than the Rio Grande and Red Rivers, natural water sources are seasonal, as is typical in the high desert. It’s a native habitat to a wide variety of flora, including Ponderosa pine and Navajo tea,  and home to many types of wildlife, from the North American river otter and ringtails to bald eagles and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.   

I first visited this site in June 2017, visiting the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in the Orilla Verde area at the southern end of the monument, camping at El Aguaje Campground on the Red River in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, and stopping by both the Wild Rivers and Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Centers, the latter if which is slightly south of the designated monument. I returned in April 2019 to show The Night Crawler the Bridge.

Access to most of the monument is free, although some of the campgrounds require fees. Other popular activities include: hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, whitewater rafting, and you can even collect piñon nuts for personal use without a permit.

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