Meet the Makers

New Mexico River Adventures

Name of business: New Mexico River Adventures

What they do: Offer a variety of outdoor experiences, from running a wild whitewater run through the Class IV rapids of the world-famous Taos Box to a scenic float through the colorful canyon of the Rio Chama

How long they have been doing it: In 2010, seasoned travelers and experienced guides, Wendy and Matt Gontram created a river company that reflected their own unique style and priorities

Where they are located: along the Rio Grande in Rinconada

Join us today for a heartfelt conversation with Wendy Gontram as we discuss social evolution, environmental sustainability, and  the magic of the river.

Anee: How have river trips influenced your life?

Wendy: I went on a river trip when I was seventeen. I grew up in a city and didn’t have a lot of wilderness in my life. I was living in a condo in the Bay area and that trip was the most magical and transformative. The fact that you could pack everything you needed in boxes and bags and float down the river and see stars like that, and hear bugs like that, and totally check out from society.

It is even more important now, with screens and cell phones. I love going on a river and not having access to my email. Just back to the basics, and simple times. A chance to soak up your surroundings, really connect with the people you are with, and have meaningful conversations.

Anee: I know you and Matt left New Mexico in 2006 to pursue river adventures elsewhere, you returned in 2010, why?

Wendy: We never stopped longing for New Mexico. We missed the sunshine, the culture, the food. And we missed the Rio Grande, the length of time that it is runnable, and that it is not freezing cold! We bought the land in Rinconada and started New Mexico River Adventures.

Anee: What makes New Mexico River Adventures unique?

Wendy: Matt and I spent time working all over, we were able to see what other companies did, gather the tidbits we liked and bring them back to New Mexico. We want to give our guests a fuller experience. We have a private meeting place, inhouse photographs, and a passionate staff.

We have hired a well-rounded group of guides. Many have extensive medical backgrounds or degrees in geology or anthropology. At regular in house “rendez-vous” we learn from each other. We have cultivated a family environment to connect with every person who works with us. We love each other and support each other and that translates to our guests.

Anee: Tell me about your experience as a woman guide and how your company has worked to make a difference.

Wendy: Our number one goal is a healthy balance of men and women on staff. I think of it as an ecosystem. We have both men and women in our highest positions. The new staff members learn from both.

Women guide differently from men; they can’t rely on upper body strength, so we get back in the boat differently. We use different techniques to train our crews. We are often anticipating the line far in advance, three moves ahead. We support everyone in their different learning styles.

Matt and I are 50/50 in the company. Many days he is running valet or shopping so I can guide. That is one of our biggest things – a company that runs with a strong female presence.

Anee: Your company is a leader in swift water certification and other emergency practices, why is this so important?

Wendy: A lot of people have never been on a raft trip before. Finding out we are going above and beyond with safety puts families at ease. We take a ton of kids down the river, and it allows us to put people who are not strong swimmers back in the mix, knowing their chances of falling out of the boat are really low. We may not be the flashiest, but we believe the safety of the trip is essential to the enjoyment of the experience.

Anee: In what ways do your river adventures raise awareness about the environment?

Wendy: I think all guides really have a unique opportunity. As I said earlier for many of our guests this is their first-time rafting, this is their first time in the wilderness, so we lean heavily into talking about the natural history and the changes we have seen in our lifetime. Hopefully our guests walk away with a deeper love for the environment.

We follow the “Leave no Trace” ethos. We pack out everything, often more than we brought in. Our headquarters are installed with solar panels. We have rid ourselves of plastic bottles. We mind the use of fuel efficiency, and minimize impact by recycling gear and making sure we extend the life of our gear – so we don’t send it to the landfill.

Anee: What has the river taught you about life?

Wendy: Everything. The analogies are endless. One of my favorite mantras is when you get sucked onto an eddy, and it might not be where you want to go, maybe there is a boat coming up behind you. But it is such a wonderful opportunity to stop and look up. Tilt your head and take a pause, it is really a gift.

This spring H.I. has partnered with NMRA to create multi-dimensional river experiences that pairs rapids, friends, and local cuisine with good wine.


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