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Taos, NM
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The Rio Grande

The Digital Media Arts program at Taos’s branch of the University of New Mexico has some pretty spectacular material to work with. Walking out the doors of UNM’s Klauer campus, you’re met with a view of the Rio Grande National Monument, over 240,000 acres of sagebrush-blanketed mesas, plunging canyons, ancient volcanoes, natural springs, and of course, the majestic Rio Grande.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that instructor Peter Walker and his students found themselves—and their cameras—drawn to the natural wonders on their doorstep.

The result is Rio Grande Serenade, a four-part docuseries about the river that runs through the heart of Northern New Mexico and a paean to our source of life.

UNM-Taos Students Take to the Water

Shot with Canon cinema cameras and GoPro (above and below the water), Rio Grande Serenade features snowstorms, mountains, rivers, high desert wildlife, a 30 million-year-old tectonic rift, and the remarkable stories of resilience and tenacity of those who call this land home. The film portrays the “epic saga of water and survival” in Northern New Mexico, acknowledging the rich history and modern challenges of living in and managing a high desert watershed.

With a media entrepreneur grant to train students in cutting-edge technology, Rio Grande Serenade provided a perfect venue for students to get hands-on experience. “In 2019 we gathered up some gear, loaded students in a van and started filming. . . . [W]e gathered story pieces in special locations stretching from Big Arsenic Springs near Questa to the Bosque in Albuquerque,” recalled Walker. “The strong tradition in Taos of keeping a watchful eye on nature’s fragile resources and fighting to defend them plays a big role in the storyline.” 

Guardians of the Rio Grande

Rio Grande Serenade focuses on the importance of water resources and the leaders in different communities who are involved in the care and conservation of New Mexico rivers, including river guides, farmers, community activists, and climate change scientists. One of the people that the film zeros in on is Cisco Guevara, Taos storytelling legend and owner of Los Rios River Runners, who is featured in the first episode, “River Guides”. 

Other episodes feature Taos Ski Valley, investigating the resort’s relationship to the snowpack that feeds the Rio Grande, acequia farmers who irrigate their lands using ancient techniques dating back to Spanish colonial times, and The Taos Water Protectors, who continue the long tradition of keeping a vigilant eye on our fragile resources. 

The serenade of the series’ title is also a literal one; Taos musician Ryan Beckwith contributed original music to Rio Grande Serenade. “Spanish guitar, soulful ballads, and ambient sounds are used to transport the audience from a dark theatre into the emotional magnitude of the high desert watershed,” says Walker. “This is a playfully poetic and important story, without shying away from the tough conflicts that need to be exposed.”