Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River
I always leave the Rio Grande reluctantly. The swiftness of the rapids, the beauty of the canyon walls, the solitude of the chasm are too quickly passed. The urge is to return again and again in order to have a more intimate look, to explore the high caves, to search out the wealth of agates and fossils that these canyons reveal. It is hostile country in a sense, not even the water being safe to drink. The bushes mostly have spines; the walls are precipitous; the rocks are either dangerously brittle or dangerously sharp.... But the call of adventure is strong, and those who run these canyons once will return, drawn by the twin magnets of beauty and danger. William O. Douglas, 1967
The National Park Service at the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River preserves and protects free-flowing and natural and scenic conditions of the river and its immediate environment for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
In 1978, Congress designated a 196-mile portion of the Rio Grande from the Chihuahua/Coahuila state line in Mexico to the Terrell/Val Verde county line in Texas as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The upper 69-mile section of this 196-mile corridor lies within Big Bend National Park. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 directs that designated rivers “...be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of the present and future generations.” Big Bend National Park administers this 196-mile section as the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River.
The NPS’s jurisdiction on the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River downstream from the park boundary includes only the river area from the United States/Mexico international boundary in the middle of the deepest channel to the gradient boundary at the edge of the river on the United States’ side. The gradient boundary, as recognized by the state of Texas, is defined as located midway between the lower level of the flowing water that just reaches the cut bank and the higher level of it that just does not overtop the cut bank. The river bed of the section of the Wild and Scenic River downstream from the park is the property of the state of Texas.
The stretch of river is classified as either wild or scenic. Wild sections are defined as “...those rivers or sections of river that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watershed or shorelines essentially primitive and water unpolluted...these represent vestiges of primitive America....” Scenic sections pertain to “...those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads....”
The following sections are classified as wild: Talley to Solis, which includes Mariscal Canyon; the entrance to Boquillas Canyon to the exit of Boquillas Canyon; and Reagan Canyon to San Francisco Canyon (the bulk of the “Lower Canyons”). The remainder of the Wild and Scenic River is classified as scenic.
Did You Know?
The river canyons that are a part of the Wild & Scenic River (Mariscal, Boquillas, and the Lower Canyons) receive only a small number of floaters each year, due to length & isolated locations. Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park is the focus of much of the river activity on the Rio Grande. More...