Embudo Creek - Embudo

New Mexico-US  


Embudo is Spanish for "funnel", an apt name for this New Mexican river whose journey through a stunning desert canyon forms cascades of glorious whitewater that attract creekboating enthusiasts from hundreds of miles around.  The Rio Embudo is formed by the confluence of the Rio Pueblo and Santa Barbara Creek and drains into the Rio Grande below Dixon, NM. 

Most people consider the Embudo a creekboat run of the highest quality.  Although it tends to lack large, well-defined drops, it maintains constant gradient and offers action packed runnable whitewater for its entire five mile length.  The run can be divided into two distinct canyons and while similar in nature, the second half is generally considered slightly more difficult.  For those in over their heads, a relatively easy egress point is available on river left before the start of the second canyon.  Otherwise, access to the majority of the canyon is challenging.  

The put-in requires a short hike down to the river.  This is the desert: heat, cactus, and rattlesnakes aren’t just Hollywood fabrications designed to titillate moviegoers.  With its source not far to the north, the water tends to be cold during spring runoff.  It doesn’t take long after putting on to feel totally immersed in this desert milieu.  Polished granite cliff walls dominate the lower river landscape, shouldering hundreds of feet of steep desert slopes extending to the canyon rim.

The first mile is a nice class III/IV warm-up.  As the run steepens, you usually unceremoniously find yourself running Long Rapid.  Long Rapid is just that, a succession of small ledge drops strung together over at least a quarter mile.  The last stretch of the rapid tends to be the site of frequent swims.  A few technical moves have a tendency to place boaters upside down in the shallow rocky creek bed. 

If someone does swim here, don't lose the boat because this is one of the worst places to hike out from.  The easiest way out from the bottom of Long Rapid is carefully climbing the long steep cliff on river right to the rim and walking out the road.  In 2017 a couple of squirty Tennessee boys got in over their heads and climbed out this way with their boats.  I heard they made it, but it was a multi-hour ordeal.  This is better than stories of other epics people have had trying to hike out through the desert on the other side.  This isn't roadside - know what you're doing.

Below Long Rapid, be cognizant of a significantly undercut boulder on river right.  A series of nameless but busy rapids lead to Cheezegrater (I don't know why, but it’s Cheeze with a 'z').  Cheezegrater is visually the most impressive rapid in the upper canyon.  It usually goes well, but the last slide can dish out some carnage, so approach it with respect.  The entire drop can be easily portaged on river right. 

Some more boogie water leads to MJ, the most commonly portaged drop on the run due both to the ease of the portage and its tendency to capriciously surf boaters into an undercut.

The canyon opens up briefly, dividing the upper and lower canyons and offering the most friendly egress point.  The second canyon is steeper, but the drops are clean and almost everything goes right down the middle.  The rapids come in quick succession.  The first drop of note is Carnival, which can be run either on river left or a boof in the middle.  Next up is Pinball and Slamdance, which often run together.  On my first run down the Embudo we accidentally dropped into these two class V rapids blind.  Fortunately, like all the rapids on the run, they go by paddling hard down the middle.  

Not far downstream from Slamdance, your spidey sense is likely to start tingling.  Get out and take a look at the series of ledge drops that lead into an unmistakable slot in the smooth granite walls known collectively as Slots of Fun.  It’s a glorious view to behold.  If you stay upright and out of the holes, this series of drops is simply splendid.  The last ledge above the slot got stickier in recent years.  It would be horrific to swim into the slot, make your boof hard and true.  The slot itself is a 12 foot slide through a pinch with a tight shallow landing.  Lots of people get flipped in the "Slot", and it's imperative to get upright quickly because a beating waits you downstream.  It's even more imperative for a swimmer or upside down boater to not get flushed into the Taco Garden, which is relatively straightforward in your boat, but dangerous outside of it. 

On my debut run down the Embudo, we had a group of four Embudo virgins.  We put on in the afternoon after an early morning and long drive.  We slowly made our way downstream, scouting as much as possible.  When we reached Slots of Fun, fatigue, rain and ominous lightening had damped our intrepidness.  Two of us decided to portage the slot proper, and two decided to run it.  At our medium flow, reaching the river right eddy above the slot was not trivial.  I decided to charge downstream and eddy out on river right.  I braced through the last ledge hole and made a half ass attempt to eddy out.  Finding myself near the back of the eddy and unsure if I was going to make it or not, I decided to opt for plan B, turned around, and charged into the slot and blasting through the bottom without getting a hair wet. 

By buddy Josh also decided to portage, but preferred to ferry across from the eddy below the last ledge to the river right eddy.  A brief flirtation with the ledge hole had him spinning around into the main current, charging the slot and cleaning it.  Our last two fearless boaters had no such intentions of portaging.  They put on and immediately got trashed in the slot and fought their way over the next ledge upside, getting hammered by rocks and barely rolling up in time to catch the last eddy before Taco Garden.  I’m not sure what the lesson is, except that this is a place to bring your A game.

Enjoy the next 1 mile of boulder gardens until the creek turns into class III.  Atom Crawford has become the defacto ambassador of the Embudo.  He owns a nice piece of property along the river at the exit of the canyon.  If you contact him beforehand, he may be willing to let you use his home as a takeout and even a campground, just be respectful and ask permission.  

This run changes significantly with water level.  At medium flows (~3.4 on the foot gauge), the run should be considered solid class V.  Below that, it starts to get manky, but more eddies form and it slows down considerably, making it easier class V.  At truly high flows, the Funnel is the real deal, and only those with expert skills and poor judgment should opt to put on.

Below is a rough conversion chart of the rock gauge to cfs that Atom once created.  However, both gauges seem to be subject to yearly change, so take it with a grain of salt.  Rumor has it that in 2014 there will be a new gauge below the canyon, greatly simplifying the level evaluation.

130cfs = 2.8ft

180cfs = 3.0ft

220cfs = 3.1ft

275cfs = 3.2ft

325cfs = 3.3ft

400cfs = 3.4ft

This conversion assumes all ditches are on.  Early season, if ditches are turned off, there will be less water in the canyon than what is indicated in this chart  (i.e. the ditches are below the canyon but above the gauge).


This gauge is an indicator of what's happening above the canyon.



Class IV+ to V+
Current Flow 15.5 CFS
07-17-2024 21:45
Recommended Flow Minimum: 100.0
Average: 300.0
Maximum: 800.0
Typical Season Begins: April
Ends: July
Recommended Use Kayaking: Yes
Rafting: No
Canoeing: No
Packrafting: No
Fishing: No
Length 5.0 Mile(s)
Gradient FPM

The Slot

04-14-2012 - The Slot at 200 cfs

Photo By: Kevin Cripps

Subject: Kevin Heiner