Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New Mexico’s Rio Grande Gorge Bridge by Kaye Spencer #NewMexicoHistory #OldWestHistory #SweetheartsoftheWest

Taos, New Mexico Plaza
By I, Zeality, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2379639

The Taos, New Mexico area is one of my favorite places to visit. From where I live in the southeastern corner of Colorado, it's a long day trip The history of the area draws me. With each visit, I make sure to find a new and different place to see.

'X' marks the Taos-spot.

At any given time of the year in Taos, you'll find "artsy" activities going on around town, which are always entertaining experiences. During the summer and early autumn, especially in the early morning, the skyline will be dotted with hot air balloons.

Taos of the 1880s is one of the settings in my western historical romance novel, The Gunfighter's Woman. A block from the Taos Plaza is an old church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which plays a significant role in the story. I will write about this church at a later time.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
MARELBU [CC BY 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Now, on to the real topic of this article: The Rio Grande Gorge.

The last time I visited Taos, my destination was the Rio Grande Gorge, which is roughly 12 miles northwest of town. Having never been there nor having researched anything about the gorge, it was quite a surprise to be driving over nondescript, flat prairie with the San Juan Mountain range off to the northwest and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range on the east and the next thing I knew, there was a bridge out in the middle of what is a deceptively flat prairie that runs right up to the foot of the surrounding mountains.
Rio Grande Gorge flat prairie view
Kaye Spencer's photo
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - south side looking northerly
Kaye Spencer's photo

The website Taos.org (Rio Grand Bridge Gorge) explains about the bridge:
…the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System. The bridge is a three-span steel continuous-deck-truss structure with a concrete-filled steel-grid deck. It was called the "bridge to nowhere" while it was being built because the funding did not exist to continue the road on the other side.

Rio Grande Gorge - west side looking westerly
Kaye Spencer's photo
At 650 feet (200 m) above the Rio Grande, it is the fifth highest bridge in the United States. The span is 1,280 feet; two 300-foot-long approach spans with a 600-foot-long main center span. The bridge was dedicated on September 10, 1965 and is a part of U.S. Route 64, a major east-west road.

In 1966 the American Institute of Steel Construction awarded the bridge "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge" in the "Long Span" category. The bridge has appeared in several films, including Natural Born Killers, Twins, She's Having a Baby, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation.

Kaye Spencer at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (Autumn 2015)

There is raised concrete walking path along both sides of the bridge. A four-foot-high steel railing keeps the observer from toppling over the edge, but if you have vertigo, a dislike of looking down from a high vantage point, or you don't particularly care for feeling the bridge move under your feet from the traffic (especially trucks) crossing the bridge, you won't be a happy camper here.

There are "look-out points" on both sides that allow you to step farther out over the edge of nothingness. From these places, you get a good view of the gorge floor. Even without binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera, you can see the white water rapids. Apparently over the years, these lookout stations have been the jump off point for suicides.

Rio Grande Gorge rapids
Kaye Spencer's photo
On the west end of the bridge you'll find a dirt parking area and a plethora of roadside vendors, who have touristy wares to sell. A state park rest area, with additional parking, is a short walk up a slight slope. In March 2013, President Obama designated 242,455 acres, which includes the Rio Grande Gorge, as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking southerly
Kaye Spencer's image
The website Discover New Mexico explains the geology of the gorge.
  • The Rio Grande Gorge is a "rift valley", which is a separation in the earth's crust due to fault activity some 29 million years ago.
  • The valley appeared before the river, which is not typical as rivers tend to create valleys, canyons, gorges, and similar geologic features.
  • The gorge has many ancient petroglyphs along its walls.
  • There are hidden hot springs and ancient ruins along the river.
  • The river and immediate surrounding area offers camping, fishing (brown and rainbow trout and northern pike), boating, and rafting opportunities (Class II to Class V white water rapids).
  • The gorge is approximately 50 miles long running northwest to southeast of Taos.
Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking northerly
Kaye Spencer's photo
Having had more than my fill of the bridge trembling under my feet, I wandered away from the highway and walked along the canyon rim as far as the safety fence allowed.

As the highway noises faded, and I took in the sight of the vast, wide-open scenery, I imagined standing here a hundred and fifty years ago. I thought of cowboys searching for cattle and wild horses or outlaws hiding from the law. From the petroglyphs and ancient ruins that tell their tales 650 feet below, it wasn't difficult to imagine Native Americans engaged in spiritual prayer and ritual in this hidden sanctuary. I thought of the animals that sought shelter, food and water, and protection from predators down in the bottom of the gorge.

My husband tells stories of a favorite fishing spot in the southern end of the gorge. He also says there are places that have a reverence about them—places where ancient memories still linger. Maybe it was the coming dusk, and maybe it was just my writer's imagination, but there was a mystical feel in the air as I stood there in the quiet descending upon the canyon's rim as I watched the shadows lengthen and obliterate all traces of the gorge.

Perhaps Mother Nature was drawing the blanket of serenity over the secrets that lay between the canyon's walls.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

Website/Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest 
Facebook | Amazon | LinkedIn
Prairie Rose Publications | YouTube


  1. Kaye, really enjoyed reading your post about the Gorge. My husband and I had the great opportunity to cross it and tour the area as well, but certainly learned much more about it from you. Really liked reading your imaginative soliloquy at the end of your article! LOL

    1. Cheri,

      Thank you. I have hot air ballooning along the Rio Grande Gorge on my 'to do' list. Someday... *grin*

    2. Hey, I'd like to put that on my bucket list, too!

  2. Perfect description of this amazing bridge, Kaye I agree with Cheri about you "imaginative soliloquy."

    1. Arletta,

      Ahh... thanks for the kind words and for stopping by to comment.

  3. Amazing bridge, Kaye. Thanks for telling us about it.I'd love to cross it one day and experience the thrill off gazing down into the gorge. Not sure my husband would enjoy it though. He's afraid of heights.:)

  4. Don't like bridges, but they are a fact of life, so I traverse them. (Not always happy about it...but growing up next to the Mississippi River learned to take a deep breath and drive.)

    Like you, I love the Taos area and have always felt a sense of something when near there. Thanks for the added information. Doris


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.