Fran­cisco “Cisco” Gue­vara

Río Grande ad­vo­cate, skier, dancer, rafter and pro­lific sto­ry­teller Cisco Gue­vara

Tradiciones Heroes - - Contents - By staci mat­lock

While Fran­cisco “Cisco” Gue­vara’s made a liv­ing from the river, he’s also been among its staunch ad­vo­cates and de­fend­ers. He’s a found­ing mem­ber of Ami­gos Bravos, one of the fore­most river ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions in the na­tion and chair­man of the non­profit’s board of di­rec­tors..

Gue­vara brings a unique per­spec­tive as a com­mer­cial guide to a board made up of bi­ol­o­gists, lawyers and en­gi­neers, said Ami­gos Bravos Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Joseph Zu­pan. “He’s a very elo­quent am­bas­sador for why wa­ter­shed pro­tec­tion is so im­por­tant,” Zu­pan said. “He’s al­ways ready to pro­mote our mis­sion, tak­ing meet­ings with donors and do­ing an an­nual fundraiser on the river. He do­nates staff and equip­ment.”

Part of the gift Gue­vara brings Ami­gos Bravos is his abil­ity to spin a good yarn, mak­ing oth­ers care as deeply about the strip of river stretch­ing from Colorado to the Gulf of Mex­ico as he does.

The river flows through his sto­ries, the ones he re­gales his clients with while they ride the Grande, grip­ping the sides as the boat plunges in and out of the rapids.

He’s run the Río Grande well over 3,500 times in the last 51 years, first as teenager test­ing his mor­tal­ity and then as a com­mer­cial guide with the com­pany he founded, Los Rios River Run­ners. He knows ev­ery inch of the river’s curves, boul­ders and rapids the way one does any long­time com­pan­ion. He can read the Grande’s moods.

He’s gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a pre­em­i­nent sto­ry­teller, too, with SOMOS, the Taos literary or­ga­ni­za­tion he has sup­ported through the decades as stu­dent and bene­fac­tor.

“It’s un­be­liev­able to have a re­nais­sance cre­ative like Cisco Gue­vara liv­ing and work­ing in Taos, a na­tive of New Mex­ico and tire­less sup­porter of SOMOS, which in­cludes Cisco’s an­nual sto­ry­telling ap­pear­ance ev­ery Oc­to­ber at The Taos Sto­ry­telling Fes­ti­val,” said James Navé di­rec­tor of the Taos Sto­ry­telling and Taos Po­etry fes­ti­vals.

“You will un­doubt­edly be en­ter­tained when you hear Cisco un­spool his yarns on a pro­fes­sional sto­ry­telling stage, or on-air through the ra­dio or ca­su­ally around a camp­fire un­der the stars along the river Chama,” Navé con­tin­ued. “SOMOS looks for­ward to many more years of dy­namic col­lab­o­ra­tions with Cisco, the man who wears that big cow­boy hat and tells some of the best sto­ries in the world.”

Gue­vara is the son of a ther­monu­clear en­gi­neer at Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory and a de­scen­dant of the Gue­vara line stretch­ing back to Spain. One of those an­ces­tors bore the last name Ladron de Gue­vara or “Thief of Gue­vara.” There’s a tale that goes with the name, some­thing about his an­ces­tor steal­ing back a strate­gic cas­tle from the Moors and hand­ing it over to the King of Spain. In honor of his swash­buck­ling an­ces­tor, Gue­vara added Ladron back to his last name. “It fit with the rebel I wanted to be and very much was,” Gue­vara said.

In North Amer­ica, the Euro­pean side of his fam­ily came in 1540 with the Coron­ado ex­pe­di­tion and re­turned again in 1598 with the con­quis­ta­dor Don Juan de Oñate. Gue­varas mar­ried into lo­cal In­dian fam­i­lies. “We’ve been around ever since,” he said.

He vis­ited Spain and the land of his an­ces­tors decades later with his mid­dle child, Pachin.

As a kid grow­ing up in Los Alamos near the river, “We would run down to the river and jump in. We didn’t know we were jump­ing in spring flood, strong Class 3 rapids,” Gue­vara said, adding that sev­eral times, “I re­mem­ber res­cu­ing my bud­dies, pulling them out bloody and bat­tered af­ter they nearly drowned.”

They floated down the river in in­ner tubes, flip­ping when they hit the rapids. “It didn’t oc­cur to us we were risk­ing our lives,” he said. Euro­pean sci­en­tists at the lab who launched Boy Scouts Ex­plorer Post 20 heard about the young dare­dev­ils and tu­tored them in the art of river run­ning. “They taught us how to ca­noe, kayak and row boats,” Gue­vara said. “They were fa­mous na­tion­wide for hav­ing a re­ally unique white-wa­ter pro­gram.”

Many pro­fes­sional river guides, espe­cially across the West, can trace their roots back to Ex­plorer Post 20.

By the time he was in his late teens, Gue­vara was in line to fol­low af­ter his dad into a ca­reer at the lab — un­til they found out he had stolen a po­lice car in one of his more re­bel­lious youth­ful mo­ments. “They asked me to with­draw my ap­pli­ca­tion,” Gue­vara said with a grin.

He wasn’t sorry. The idea of be­ing stuck in a cu­bi­cle work­ing on re­search re­lated to nu­clear weapons didn’t thrill him. River guid­ing alone couldn’t sup­port him in those early years. So like oth­ers in North­ern New Mex­ico, he de­vel­oped a range of skills to sur­vive. He be­came an EMT, a ski in­struc­tor and worked con­struc­tion. He ap­plied for a job at Taos Ski Val­ley when its founder Ernie Blake was still mas­ter of the moun­tain. “Ernie told me he would hire me if I cut my hair and shaved my beard, but I wasn’t go­ing to do that.”

When Red River heard Gue­vara was ex­pe­ri­enced in ski­ing the mon­ster slopes at TSV, they hired him im­me­di­ately, with his beard and long hair.

Here’s the way he tells the story of his seven win­ters work­ing at Red River:

He would bike in his ski suit to open the ski shop at 6 a.m. The own­ers would take over at 8 a.m. Gue­vara would walk over to the ski area and don his ski jacket. Peo­ple would be rent­ing skis. He’d con­vince them to take a ski les­son from a guy named “Cisco.” Then he’d put on his ski school jacket, walk to the slopes and of­fer lessons. Next he’d put on his ski pa­trol jacket, be­cause he was a cer­ti­fied EMT, “and I’d pick up the peo­ple who were in­jured com­ing down the moun­tain, some of whom I’d taught to ski. Usu­ally they were in so much pain they didn’t rec­og­nize me.”

He would take them down the moun­tain. He’d take off ski pa­trol jacket and put on his EMT garb and start a drip line on them in the am­bu­lance.

It all makes for a good tale.

For decades now, when Gue­vara wasn’t on the river or up on the slopes or res­cu­ing peo­ple in an am­bu­lance, he was on the dance floor twirling part­ners. A fan of rock ’n’ roll, it was a pretty woman who got him in­ter­ested in two-step­ping, and by ex­ten­sion coun­try mu­sic, one night at the Sage­brush Inn. He be­came a two-step­ping mas­ter.

In the midst of his al­ready packed life with busi­ness, hob­bies and chil­dren, he made time to vol­un­teer.

He was among the early par­tic­i­pants in the Taos Sto­ry­telling Fes­ti­val 18 years ago. He’s been a part of the group ever since. He vol­un­teers with Río Grande Restora­tion and was a char­ter mem­ber of Ami­gos Bravos in the mid-1980s. They raised seed money and “we took on Moly­corp Mine, which was our first is­sue that we were fight­ing. It took off from there. Now Ami­gos Bravos is on the fore­front of a lot of na­tional fights – ground­wa­ter restora­tion, wet­lands preser­va­tion and in­stream flow.”

He was pres­i­dent of the Talpa Com­mu­nity Cen­ter for six years, turn­ing the old ele­men­tary school into a pub­lic cen­ter that now thrives with a li­brary, classes and meeting space. “We put a lot of time into that place, paint­ing, clean­ing, re­pair­ing. It was a lot of fun,” he said.

This sum­mer he came up against his own mor­tal­ity in a way he didn’t ex­pect. Life on the river and on ski slopes is in­her­ently risky. But it was an in­fec­tion fol­low­ing surgery that al­most killed him. “This was me think­ing I’m pow­er­ful, I’m dif­fer­ent, I have a re­ally great liv­ing and peo­ple ad­mire me for what I do,” he said. “Then bam, I got knocked down.”

But he’s back up, fo­cused on a dif­fer­ent way to ap­proach his life and health. He’ll keep sto­ry­telling and danc­ing and lov­ing the river.

Be­cause the river is part of him.

Their sto­ries are in­sep­a­ra­ble.

‘ The river pre­sented it­self and I never looked back,’ Gue­vara said.

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