The sagebrush and piñon-juniper flatlands of the Taos Plateau are sliced by a steep chasm of black rock carved 600-800 vertical feet to a ribbon of river, circled by volcanic cones, cliffs and the Sangre de Cristo's white-dusted peaks.

Looping through the BLM Wild Rivers Recreation Area, the Wild Rivers Backcountry Byway provides ready access to the rock-strewn, riffling upper reaches of the Rio Grande before dams and diversions dampen the river's unruly ways – a haven for hikers, cyclists, wildlife-viewers, sport-fishermen and sightseers. 

The spectacular 360-degree vista at La Junta Overlook, where the Red River joins the Rio Grande 800 feet below, is singularly worth the drive. Several trails reach the river and backcountry campsites at the bottom of the gorge, where ponderosa pines offer tall shade for trout anglers. The upper reaches of the Rio Grande are a whitewater wonderland for kayakers and rafters in years of abundant snowfall. Boating within the Wild Rivers Recreation Area is hazardous and requires a permit. The byway loops past the Wild Rivers Visitor Center, home to a mural painted by a collaboration of New Mexico artists who share a passion for the area and its wildlife.