After about 2 years of e-mail correspondence (after finding the Sierra Rios website), we finally made plans to join Rocky Contos and Barbara Conboy for what was promised to be one of the finest multi-day raft trips in Mexico. The trip down the Rio Mulatos into the Rio Aros and on to the Rio Yaqui was to be a 7 day, 140 mile journey through multiple canyons with beautiful scenery, good rapids, and interesting side hikes. The trip was timed for the heart of the monsoon season, when good water levels are almost guaranteed.
Meeting Rocky and Barb in Tuscon, we loaded their gear into our trailer and we were off to Douglas, Arizona for the night. An early start put us through the border at Agua Prieta and down the road to Sahuaripa, Sonora where Rocky found us a great shuttle driver. Jose rode with us (even overnighted with us) on the way to the put-in near Mulatos. After offloading the gear, he then drove our truck/trailer back to Sahuaripa and met us at the take-out at Rancho El Rio. He even washed and vacuumed the truck!
The Rio Mulatos carves a spectacular canyon through multiple layers of rock, ranging from reds and oranges in the upper section to some pink shades in the Barranca Mulatos. The lower sections before the Aros confluence are heavily vegetated (and quite green during the monsoons) with large bluffs eroded to form high rimrock headlands above the river. A few ranchettes are found along the river below the Barranca Mulatos, becoming more numerous near the confluence with the Aros. Although the entire Mulatos/Aros/Yaqui trip has spectacular scenery, the whitewater of the Mulatos was the highlight of the trip.
In the Barranca Mulatos, the first big rapid was Amargosa, which we scouted on RR. This rapid has a pretty straightforward slide on RR which makes for good pictures. Lacey caught a tube of her small cat in the lateral and popped up a bit, surprising all of us. Not bad for the first known cataraft descent. Neil and Rocky’s runs were the second and third descents. We also took a look at a long class III rapid in the boulder arroyo section before having perfect runs. We were unable to scout the two largest rapids (“Unscathed” and “Dos Mas”), so it was read and run by standing on the frames.
Running rapids without being able to scout beforehand is a good test of anyone’s whitewater abilities. There is nothing like the thrill of dropping into a big long rapid without knowing what lies ahead, reacting within a split second as each hole, wave, and boulder presents itself. The entrance into “Unscathed” has many flipper waves and holes and just when you make it through the tough upper section, you go careening into a blind right hand turn with many more tricky maneuvers to make.
You want to drop into “Dos Mas” with your eyes wide open. It is the hardest rapid on the river. It takes intense focus and constant alertness as you pop out of one big wave and are tossed right in line to smash into a rock or another wave or hole. At the water levels we had, it was continuous class IV+ read and run fun. Be wary and ready to pull away from a huge boulder pour over at the bottom as this is exactly where your boat will be pulled by the swift current. Rocky assured us these rapids were clean and they were, just very challenging!
Overall, the best rapids of the trip are found in the Barranca Mulatos. The rapids on the Rio Aros are fun, but less challenging than the Mulatos and the Yaqui has mostly large wave trains. The scenery is excellent for the entire trip. The larger side canyons make for interesting stops and Arroyo El Aliso is not to be missed (although it is easy to miss on the river). Here you can swim up a small slot canyon with warm water to a great lunch spot below a small waterfall. It’s just beautiful.
On the Rio Aros, the water is bigger, but the rapids are generally Class III. Two of the best are Roca Roja and Morita. Rocky took the right falls at Morita while Lacey and I ran left.
Once the Rio Bavispe joins in to form the Rio Yaqui, things calm down to mostly Class II, even though flows are pretty big. We hit a thunderstorm with marble size hail just downstream of the Rio Bavispe. This is monsoon season, anything can happen! It soon cleared up and we were able to head down river to our next camp. The canyon is wide open here and quite lush due to the monsoons.
It was such a help having Rocky and Barb (both fluent in Spanish) along to handle the logistics, translate, and provide some guidance along the rivers. If you ever run into Rocky along a river (he’ll be the one chowing down on mangoes) and he invites you on a Mexican river adventure, drop everything and GO! It just may be the most fun adventure you’ll ever have.
For a video of the trip see our Videos Page