Disappearing Rio Grande

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Why Follow the Rio Grande

by Colin McDonald | Feb. 11, 2015

The Rio Grande is disappearing. Demand for water is growing as snow packs shrink, rain patterns shift and average temperatures rise faster than they ever have in the past 11,000 years.

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Road trip, Day 102

David Lozano takes in his first real view of the Rio Grande. Photo by: Erich Schlegel

Today we dealt with the logistics of getting boats, trucks and cars in position between Del Rio and El Paso so we can walk and paddle the 1,200 miles that stand between the Gulf of Mexico and us in El Paso.    

It meant 17 hours in various vehicles and thanking people for letting us use their driveways and storage sheds.  

It had all the potential to be awful. There was traffic between Austin and San Antonio, confusing directions, tension about forgotten gear, late arrivals and hours spent riding together in the cab of a pickup.  

Then we saw the Rio Grande.  

It was the first time for David Lozano, who is joining our team to help us get through the thick brush of the Forgotten Reach and slip through the Canyons of Big Bend and the Wild and Scenic section. He did most of the driving.  

The river is a brown churning mass where we saw it just below Presidio. Mexico is dumping water out of its reservoirs on the Rio Conchos as it deals with surprisingly strong monsoon rains. The Rio Conchos is the Lower Rio Grande’s largest tributary. If it stays high, we will have no problem making miles and staying on schedule.  

It means we will have time for side trips and more interviews. And there are more than we can ever get to.  

One of the people helping us is Charles Angell, a river guide based in Redford. In less than two hours he showed us the remains of chapels from the 1700s, Calvary Forts from the 1800s and earth stained black with the ash of campfires from the last 10,000 years. Lastly, he showed us the memorial for Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. In 1997, Hernandez was shot by U.S. Marines who were patrolling the border as part of the War on Drugs.  He was 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and was tending to his family’s flock of goats. He was shot and left to die.  

The river is full of stories. It feels right to be back.  

To comment on this post or ask a question, please visit the expedition's Facebook page.

While making his way to the Gulf of Mexico, Colin will be periodically activating a device that uses satellite technology to share his current location. Use this map to see where he traveled on this day.

Check-In Time of Check-In (CST) Latitude Longitude
#1 11:52 p.m. 31.73159 -106.31352


To report on and understand the haphazard irrigation system the Rio Grande has become and the changes it is going through, Colin decided the best approach would be to travel the length of the Rio Grande by foot and small boat.

He knew it would give him a unique perspective on a river that few understand. It did require many long days of moving slowly and camping on muddy riverbanks, but Colin likes that sort of thing.

The benefit was it provided access to people who wanted to share their stories and experiences with the Rio Grande. Via Facebook and chance encounters, Colin made instant friends who opened their homes. They provided help from loaning their trucks to their cell phone contact lists to help tell the story of the Rio Grande.

The trip would not have been possible without their help, along with the dedicated assistance of David Lozano, Jason Jones and Daniel Dibona, who drove thousands of miles to get people and boats in place.


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