Beta - River Beach (3A/B II)

by Brett Kettering

Getting There

[This part of the directions is common to both River Beach and Breaker Box canyons]

I'll assume that everyone knows about NM 599 (the Santa Fe Bypass between I-25 and NM 285/84). All GPS coordinates are given in WGS 84 decimal format. Follow these directions to get out to River Beach, Breaker Box, Arroyo Montoso, Frijoles Opposite and Rock canyons. After step 6, your path will be different depending on your destination.

1) Take Exit 6 off NM 599 and get to the Frontage Rd. on the NW side (this is the exit for Co Rd 62). See this Google Map view. Go through the roundabout so that you are heading SW on the Frontage Rd. Reset your trip odometer just as you exit the roundabout. The GPS coordinate is N35.65974 W106.03824.

2) Proceed SW down the Frontage Rd. to Caja Del Rio Rd. (you can see it on the link above). Your trip odometer reading should be 1.3 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.64750 W106.05567.

3) Turn right onto Caja Del Rio Rd. and go north past the Marty Sanchez Golf Course (on the west, your left) until you come to Co Rd 62 on the west (left). You will also pass Co Rd 62 on the east (right) before getting to the part that goes west. See this Google Map view. Make the left onto Co Rd 62 West. Your trip odometer reading should be 4.2 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.68512 W106.07169. This is the first good place to leave some cars.

4) Go west past the dump. Here there will be a "Y" in the road. The left branch goes to a picnic area. The right branch is Nf-24. Take the right branch onto Nf-24. See this Google Map view. Your trip odometer reading should be 5.4 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.68956 W106.09132.

5) Continue NW on Nf-24. It will start to bend and turn to head mostly west. You will cross over cattle guards with some branch roads off of Nf-24 at 6.4 and 6.6 miles.

6) When your trip odometer reading is 11.1 miles, you’ll be at GPS coordinate is N35.74151 W106.17324. To the right is a road that goes over a cattle guard and heads out to the northeastern part of the Caja del Rio. This is Nf-24N. See this Google Map view.

The Canyon

There is a man-made water collection site in this canyon's water flow that is labeled "Pinabete Tank" on the Garmin 24K Topo maps. A little north of where the canyon dumps into the Rio Grande is a very nice beach along the Rio Grande. Since the canyon is in the Caja del Rio (River Box) area and there’s a nice beach at the end, we call this River Beach Canyon. It is on the northeast side of Chino Mesa, which is on the Santa Fe side of the Rio Grande. Across the river is where Portrillo/Water canyon dumps into the Rio Grande. You can see the Big Enchilada (a local White Rock, NM Crag) from the end of River Beach Canyon.


While this canyon is normally dry, with a handful of avoidable water holes, it is obvious that at times a large volume of water flows through this canyon. The Chino Mesa area is a large watershed. If you can see thunderstorm activity, it would be wise to stay out of this canyon.


For a good indication of the water content in the canyon, take note of the amount of water in the pools at the top where you drop in to the drainage. Also, note how large the pool is at the bottom of the third tier at the first rappel. When these pools had lots of water there were a couple of swims in the slot portion and the pothole at the third rappel was full.

This is a fun canyon that could probably be down-climbed by going out of the water line and hiking through the vegetation, but what would be the fun in that? Staying in the water line makes this canyon a 3AII. There are 3 rappels (and could be a 4th), the longest of which requires 170’ of rope if you rappel all three tiers. It's been our habit of late to rappel to the first tier, about 35' or 50' depending if you choose the bolted anchor on RDC or the large boulder that is slung on LDC. One can pretty easily down climb the other two tiers. We are able to easily bypass the large pool at the bottom of the 3rd tier, when it is there, by traversing above it LDC. But, if you want to swim, you could do so.

Getting to River Beach Canyon isn't difficult, but it takes a while. The dirt road has deep ruts in places, your car will brush some bushes and trees (so if you absolutely don't want to take a chance scratching your paint, don't bring that car), and you have to cross a couple of rocky washes. I made it in my Honda Element, but had to pick my path carefully at times. I haven’t been out there since the Monsoons of September 2013, but I hear that the roads are worse now.

After following the generic "Getting There" directions above, you should now be at an odometer reading of 11.1 miles and GPS coordinate N35.74151 W106.17324.

1) Turn to the right and cross the cattle guard. This is where the road really narrows, the deep ruts start to appear, the bush/tree rubbing begins, and you encounter the rocky washes. Just before this turn-off is another good place leave some cars.

2) Continue west to the "Y". Take the right branch (NNW) of the "Y". See this Google Map view. Your trip odometer reading should be 11.6 miles.

3) At 13.2 and 13.7 miles you will have to pass through some rocky washes. Pick your lines carefully, go slowly, but keep moving. Continue NNW past a branch west (left, Nf-24N-B). Your trip odometer reading should be 13.8 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.75529 W106.19781.

4) Stay on the right fork (Nf-24N) and it will turn north and then NNE. Continue until you come to a “Y”. The right branch, Nf-24-N-G, goes to the River Beach Canyon entry point. The left branch goes to the trailhead where you will exit the canyon. The two end-points are not far apart. Your trip odometer reading should be 14.6 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.76636 W106.19769.

5) Drive to the end of Nf-24N-G. Your trip odometer should read 15.4 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.77275 W106.18810.

Gear-up and head east a very short distance. Here you will drop into the water line at N35.77232 W106.18753.

A short distance up the water line to the SW you will find Pinabete Tank at N35.77194 W106.18779. The last time I was there it was nearly filled with dirt.

Follow the water line downstream. You’ll encounter a few easy down climbs and water holes to avoid. Some of the rock is pretty slippery. Use caution, and your hands and feet.

Soon you will come to the top of the first rappel. There are a couple of bolted Sport Climbs up on the RDC wall. To LDC, up out of the main water line, is a very large truck-sized rock. This is one anchor for the first rappel and it is at N35.77357 W106.18869. We tried wrapping some smaller rocks that appeared to be firmly held down by the truck-sized rock, but they pulled out. So, we wrapped the entire truck-sized rock. Be sure to inspect the webbing all the way around (critters chew on this stuff and it degrades with weather and time). The anchor extends over the first edge of the rock, but there is a nice platform on which to rig one’s rappel and start over the edge for the first part of the rappel that is mostly free hanging. This rappel goes over 3 tiers and we rigged it as a single rappel. It takes ~170’ of rope to rappel all three tiers. If you just rappel to the first tier and then down climb the rest, the rappel is about 50’. It’s an easy pull to get your rope back. Another alternative is a bolted anchor on RDC, just a bit out of the main water line. It is 35’ to the first tier. If you want to rappel from the first tier, there are plenty of natural anchor options there.

If you want to down climb and there is a lot of water in the pool at the bottom of the third tier, just work your way down and around the LDC side of the water line and you will be able to find a way down to the bottom on the other side of the pool. It involves some minor exposure, but no big fall potential. If there isn’t water in the pool, you can pretty easily down climb in the water line directly into the dry pool. Of course, if there is water in the pool, you can still easily down climb directly and swim. :-)

Continue down the water line. You’ll come to a spot that could be about a 40’ rappel, but it can be easily circumvented by staying up out of the water line and up on the shelf LDC. Then down climb back into the main water line.

A short way down the main water line at N35.77436 W106.18845 you will find the second rappel. This is anchored with webbing wrapped around a pinch point under a very, very large boulder. This is ~80’ rappel, mostly free-hanging. If you rig to keep your rope out of a small V in the rock and up on the smooth part, it is an easy pull. The bottom slopes away from the face of the cliff, so there's no pool that forms at its bottom.

From here you can see where the water line goes down and into the slot portion of this canyon. You enter the slot portion at N35.77483 W106.18819. It’s not long before the slot bends left and you’re in the deepest portion of the slot. Just after the turn there is sometimes a short pool, perhaps 20' in length. It will be muddy water and you can’t tell how deep it is. Sometimes a wade. Sometimes a short swim. There is a small shelf on RDC, so you can remove your packs and push them in front of you as you army-crawl past the pool. A short distance later there is sometimes another pool that is about 100’ in length. Again, it’s muddy water and you don’t know if you’ll wade or swim. You can bypass it by climbing up on a shelf on LDC, but it’s a bit sketchy. Worst case, you may slip down the slope into the pool. In both cases, it’s probably best to carabiner a rope to a person and let that person wade or swim through to see what it’s like. You can then use the rope to pull equipment through (if your pack isn’t very “floaty”) or to be an aid for others who want to use it to propel themselves to the other side.

A short hike downstream and you’ll come to a point where the main water line plunges into a true pothole. It's definitely a swimmer, but one of our group went in from the down canyon side and noted that it's not a keeper as he was able to walk in and out fairly easily. The existing anchor at N35.77644 W106.18934 on RDC puts you down on the down canyon side of the pothole. Some time we'll need to build a deadman anchor that takes you into the pothole for those who really want to swim.


While we were at the pothole a good-sized rock spontaneously came tumbling down the hillside and into the pothole. The sides of the pothole are gravely, chossy compacted sandstone that breaks down easily.


At this point you can pack-up your technical gear. The slot really begins to open up now. There are a couple of small down climb obstacles to finish off the slot portion and then you move out into a boulder-strewn wash that lasts all the way down to the Rio Grande.

The canyon exit is at N35.78344 W106.19851 on LDC. An upright pole and large stone mark it. However, you may as well hike down to the Rio Grande and enjoy some time by the river. To the NE of the end of the canyon is a nice little beach on the shore of the Rio Grande.

You’ll need to come back up into the wash portion of the canyon to exit. From the start of the exit trail to the trailhead marker (at N35.77427 W106.19455) it is 0.9 miles and 900’ of elevation gain. The trail is easy to follow and there are cairns along the way.

Once at the trailhead, hike ESE back to where you parked at N35.77275 W106.18810.