After
days of map and photograph research I found a Mexican river within
striking distance of Brownsville, Texas. The Rio Salto, or the Leap
River, appeared to offer excellent opportunities for white water
boating. The Rio Salto falls out of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains
just a day’s drive south of the border.

Flowing
for miles over limestone bedrock, the river makes its first plunge
over a three hundred foot waterfall near the town of Meco. Below
this huge drop is a wonderful class IV blue water river. After
falling hundreds of feet over the next three miles, the Rio Salto
becomes a flat valley river again. Then it makes one last lunge as
it cascades from the mountains in a spectacular series of blue-water
travertine waterfalls and flows past the city of Valles.

It
took about a week to plan a trip into Mexico. Our group pulled out
of Atlanta the day after Christmas, taking advantage of the holidays
and claiming sick leave which would expire at the end of the year
anyway. Our Mexico expedition included five kayakers; Jeremy Orr,
Clint Rinehart, Brad Moulton, Kevin Thomas, Josh Fisher, and myself,
Will Reeves, the sole open boater. The drive itself was easy,
requiring only a few hundred miles of Mexican roads to reach the
first canyon of the Rio Salto near Meco in San Luis Potosi.

The
shuttle revealed very little about the run until we found a
convenient pull-off next to the river. The Rio Salto seemed to drop
out of sight next to the road, so we stopped the cars and hiked down
for a good look. Below us was an impressive waterfall easily
measuring a hundred feet, if not more. Upstream we could see several
more five to fifteen foot drops. Excited about the prospect of a
blue water run with numerous waterfalls, we located a convenient
take-out just above the waterfall.

Back
on the road again it was just three more miles to El Salto, a huge
three hundred foot waterfall, and the put-in. The Mexicans have a
hydroelectric plant downstream of the falls to draw power from the
river. The guards told us that most people put in on a channel
leading out of the hydro plant. However, after scouting upriver, we
choose to launch just below the big falls in order to pick up a few
more runnable drops.

After
a hearty debate over the pitfalls of putting on at 3:00 in the
afternoon in a foreign country’s unscouted river, we concluded that
at worst we would spend a nice warm Mexican night in the jungle. The
run started out with four relatively creeky waterfalls. The first
and last were easy drops, but the middle two required good boat
control to avoid slamming against the bottom.

After
these initial drops, the river was artificially diverted into the
power plant through a dynamited channel. This created a jagged ten
foot drop with some pin potential. Everyone ran the drop, but
several boats hit poorly placed rocks. We concluded the channel was
not worth running on future trips. The Rio Salto was much larger now
since the flow from the power plant was back in the riverbed with
us.

The
next drop was a U-shaped hole with a strong backwash. Clint and I
had clean runs off the left side, but Josh got Maytagged in the hole
and eventually swam. I began chasing his boat and gear as Clint
pulled him to the bank. Josh’s boat disappeared downstream as I
chased it around a blind bend. Rushing around the corner, I found
myself standing at the top of the twenty five foot drop wondering if
this trip was over for Josh as his boat flushed over the lip.

As
Josh’s boat washed free, I concluded it was clean and the hole to be
survivable. Brad arrived at the scene a few seconds after the boat
washed over the drop and I signaled the line over the falls. He
nailed the line and chased Josh’s boat down to keep it from getting
lost forever in the Mexican jungle.

Having
scouted the rapids down to the falls, I ran back up to the others and
took the lead. We watched as Brad recovered Josh’s boat and then we
each ran the falls several times. The big drop had several lines,
but the best was straight off the center of the drop. Kevin and
Jeremy tried to boof the left edge but both ended up in the hole
below and were sucked out of their boats.

After
running the falls several times, we continued on and encountered
several difficult boulder gardens and smaller ten foot waterfalls.
Many of the rapids had large undercuts, as the travertine banks were
slowly growing across the surface of the water. We found one
portage, several good ender holes, and a surf wave. Unfortunately,
since we put on at 3:00 p.m., daylight was running out.

After
a few more six foot ledges, we encountered an interesting class V
waterfall. Probably larger than the first twenty five footer, this
drop involved serious rock bashing. Clint, Brad, and I discussed the
line and concluded that we were too far from any good medical aid to
be running drops like this. So we portaged and continued to boat
several more large waterfalls before reaching the take-out.

Serendipitously,
the governor of San Luis Potosi was viewing the area as we arrived
and we held a brief conversation with him. To further improve local
relations, we purchased the next few days’ food in the town of Meco.

The
next day we headed out to tackle the lower canyon much farther down
stream. Near the city of Valles, the Rio Salto makes its final
plunge through a roadside park called Cascados Micos. The put-in was
easily reached by lowering our boats to yet another hydro plant.

The
Cascados Micos run was amazing. Over one hundred and forty feet of
travertine waterfalls in about a mile. We spent the whole day
running the drops again and again. Each waterfall had at least two
lines, which varied from class II to V, and individual waterfalls
varied from five to seventy feet. Only the seventy foot giant
appeared too hard to survive, and even it had a line for those of you
inclined to run that sort of thing. We didn’t run the big one, but
boated the others several times each. The kayakers even tried my
Rodeo out on a few of the drops.

The
area around Valles has several other amazing runs, including the
Santa Maria, with five separate canyons, and the little known Rio
Verde. Both of these rivers host class IV and V white water along
with a number of great waterfalls and some spectacular scenery. The
food in Valles is great and the locals were very friendly. Next year
perhaps we will return to explore the first two canyons of the Santa
Maria and explore the Rio Salto above the huge waterfall at the put
in.

by Will Reeves

This
article was originally published in American Whitewater, Volume
XXXVII, No. 4, July/August 1997, as part of a special Take A Mexican
Holiday Getaway.

From The Eddy Line, January 1999