National Park Service

Chihuahuan Desert Network (CHDN)

I&M at Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River

Canoeing along the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
Canoeing along the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
NPS LogoRio Grande River WSR Home Page
CHDN park map
Location of Rio Grande River WSR in the Chihuahuan Desert Network. Click for larger image.

The Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River (WSR) includes 305 km (196 miles) of the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande begins its 2,000-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico from springs and snow melt high in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. As it flows toward the Gulf, its waters are diverted for flood control, irrigation, power generation, municipal uses, and recreation. By the time the Rio Grande leaves El Paso, so much water has been diverted that the riverbed between El Paso and Presidio, Texas often lies dry. Depending upon annual rainfall patterns, 69 to 86 percent of the water in the Rio Grande downstream from Presidio flows from the Mexican Rio Conchos, which originates in the Sierra Madre of western Chihuahua.

Rugged canyons, lush riparian areas, rapids, and unspoiled views contribute to the scenic allure and outstanding visual quality of this area. Near its upstream end, the Rio Grande has sliced through the surrounding rocks to form steep-walled, sometimes narrow canyons. In the Lower Canyons portion of Rio Grande, the river and its tributaries lie 152 to 457 m (500 to 1,500 feet) below the surrounding plateaus.

The Rio Grande WSR corridor represents an exceptional example of Chihuahuan Desert fauna in association with species that depend on the rare aquatic and riparian habitats of the river. The flora and fauna of the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande have not been altered greatly by man-made influences. The rugged nature of the region reduces the ability of livestock to graze the area, although goats have probably altered the vegetation in some areas. Reduced flows, and occasionally complete cessation of river flows, that now plague the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park are mitigated to a great extent by springs that sustain a perennial flow through the Lower Canyons.

Almost no systematic inventories have been conducted in the Rio Grande WSR, but one limited survey has been conducted for mammals. In that study 43 species of mammals (including 13 bat species) were detected, and another 4 species are thought to possibly occur. In addition a vegetation mapping project is scheduled to begin in late April 2013, thus an initial plant species list will be developed.

CHDN monitors river channel dynamics in Rio Grande WSR.

Life Zone

Average precipitation at Boquillas, Texas, on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park is almost 25.1 cm (10 inches). The Rio Grande WSR is primarily found within the desert scrub and woodlands life zone.

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Last Updated: March 21, 2017 Contact Webmaster