Stuck in the Chihuahuan Desert, Team NRS stand up paddler Aaron Koch busts out Google Earth and finds a paddling oasis in the beautiful Canon de Fernandez.
“It’s the middle of winter, I’m in the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico, and I really need to Paddle!”
For the past two years I’ve spent Christmas in the desert city of Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. It’s an industrial city on the border of Coahuila and Durango. Not much opportunity to paddle, unless you have Google Earth!
The Canon de Fernandez is a hidden paddling gem about thirty miles from the city. After
some quick research, my fiancé Mariela and I found that she has an aunt who works for SEMARNAT, the governing body for all of nature here in Mexico. She agreed to get us into the canyon and show us some of the oldest trees in Mexico.
Let me start with some beta about this particular canyon. The protected area is around 17,000 hectares. It is a 32 km stretch of river and canyon.The Rio Nazas runs through the canyon and continues on to the Laguna of Torreon, some 300 km distant. The Nazas receives all its water from the rains of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the state of Durango. The Durango forest produces most of the water for all of Northern Mexico.
Canon de Fernandez is a Ramsar-protected site due to its wetlands’ importance in the middle of the biggest desert in the northern hemisphere. Only one other wetlands site exists in this entire desert. Canon de Fernandez is home to Sabino trees (Montezuma Bald Cypress) up to 1,300 years old. The natives called these trees “Ahuehuetl” which means “old man on the water”!
My addiction to paddling took us into the heart of the canyon to paddle 30 km of this desert oasis. We chose inflatable SUP boards for the trip. I rode the new NRS Czar 6 and Mariela rode the Earl 4. The portability and light weights of these boards make them ideal for this kind of adventure, plus they can double as sleeping pads! We also wanted the best view and the driest ride possible, since the weather can be quite chilly in the winter.
There have been over 200 species of birds documented in the canyon. Eighty percent are migratory. Ducks, hawks, egrets, orioles and kingfishers are common sites. Some of these birds fly from central Canada to spend the winter in the canyon.
It’s difficult to say just how many old trees there are in the canyon. The Sabino is the only conifer that has adapted to the hot desert temperatures of the summer. A 600-year-old tree is considered OLD! The oldest tree in the canyon is just over 1,300 years old. The oldest trees are not necessarily the biggest. The easiest way to tell an older tree is by the lower branches. These branches begin to bend downwards and start to host their own ecosystems. We saw flowers, cactus, insects and other trees growing from these small ecosystems.
The Rio Nazas has water all year long; this time of year there is very little current and the water is crystal clear. The dam upstream (Presa Francisco Zarca) will start its annual releases in February and continue through May. The rainy season is August through September. The canyon is not well marked, so be prepared to ask directions, or you can find a local guide.
If you’re a birdwatcher or paddling enthusiast, this canyon has incredible views, great paddling and thousands of birds. Canon de Fernandez is truly an oasis in the middle of the desert. In the coming years the cities of Gomez Palacio and Torreon will be looking into eco-friendly tourism for the canyon. We will do our best to get SUP and Kayaking included in these activities. Until next time, nos vemos en el rio!