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In the springtime, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains replenish a number of rivers that flow from its eastern flanks onto the plains of northeastern New Mexico.
The Pecos River typically carries the greatest volume during the spring runoff. From Cowles to the village of Pecos, the river drops steeply for 20 miles through conifer forests. Diversion dams require attention and possible portaging. Beginning at South San Ysidro, the river passes through a number of steep-walled sandstone canyons and alongside a collection of Spanish colonial villages. This 25-mile stretch, which ends at Villanueva State Park, has small rapids and is recommended for canoes. From Villanueva State Park, the Pecos offers boaters a short season (May-June) through 19 miles of whitewater in a steep-walled canyon. This fast-moving stretch requires one difficult portage around a diversion dam.
The City of Carlsbad, through which the Pecos River flows, has taken advantage of its oasis qualities and offers scenic boat tours. Paddleboats and bumper boats can be rented and a full-scale water park keeps locals and visitors entertained throughout the warmer months.
To the north, during wet years, the Canadian River offers a whitewater run from just east of Springer to Conchas Reservoir. The 75- mile trip takes boaters through a sandstone canyon littered with historic ruins and eagles. From Eagle Nest Dam to Cimarron, the Cimarron Riverkicks up continuous challenging whitewater for 25 miles. The fast-moving mountain run passes alongside towering granite cliffs at Cimarron Canyon State Park. Below the village of Cimarron, the river calms down and occasionally holds enough water to carry boaters another 25 miles through rolling cattle country to the town of Springer.
During a wet spring, boaters can navigate a 30-mile stretch of the Mora River, from just east of Watrous to the confluence of the Canadian River. This run begins lazily, gradually increasing in whitewater intensity, with boaters portaging some of the most difficult sections.