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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Misery Management, Day 107 and 108

David Lozano holds his new puppy and expedition mascot, Rio Bravo, while relaxing in the old hotel at Indian Hot Springs. Photo by: Colin McDonald

In the last 48 hours, we have covered 47 miles, lost one team member, gained two others, been warned by the U.S. Border Patrol about the U.S. Border Patrol and ended up having the hotel at an old hot-springs resort to ourselves. 

It is all a bit confusing, so here it is in chronological order.  

On Friday night, Dr. Dan DiBona, a friend of Jason Jones, drove out from Austin to join us.   

After seeing the team in action on Saturday, he determined Erich has not recovered from whatever he got when he was bit on the neck by a bug in New Mexico. He made some calls, learned there had been a couple cases of the plague in New Mexico and set up an appointment for Erich to see a specialist.  

He also pointed out that David’s ankles have swollen up like sausages and that, along with his pain, is not a good thing. If David does not stop walking immediately and rest, Dr. DiBona said, he would run the risk of needing surgery to relieve the pressure on his legs and the swelling and pain would only get worse.  

The good doctor called for misery management.  

Until that diagnosis, David was operating under the assumption he would walk through the pain and eventually it would get better. 

While all this is happening, I’m trying to make as many miles as I can so that we will have more flexibility to deal with the unknowns of the Forgotten Reach. I covered 30 miles on Saturday and 17 on Sunday.   

Dr. DiBona asked why I had a wrap around my ankle and I quickly told him it was just for a minor sprain that was healing quickly. I then changed the subject.  

As we are making these miles, we made friends with the U.S. Border Patrol agents. They warned us that we are in the friendliest section of the border as far as agents go. They told us not to hold it personally against the agents we meet downstream if they seem a bit rude. 

With this in mind, we woke up Sunday morning with a completely new plan. Dr. DiBona would take Erich back to Del Rio so Erich could pick up his car and be in Austin on Monday. He would then return to keep an eye on the rest of us.  

David would now be in charge of misery management and drive the truck while Jason walked with me until we reached the end of the road. I would then continue on into the canyons of the Forgotten Reach and see them on the other side.   

But why stay with a plan for more than six hours? 

While driving ahead to the end of the road, David met the caretaker of Indian Hot Springs. The caretaker then invited us to stay at the old hotel that is next to the bath house and encouraged us to clean up.     

Somewhere in there, David also met Rio Bravo, a mud-covered pup with cactus spines lodged in his belly and backside.  

David has a knack for picking up dogs and they seem to know it. Within an hour, Rio Bravo was clean and thorn free and dining on snacks out of David’s hand. By the end of the evening, David had a 17-pound bag of dog food and had paid $20 to the ranch manager for the pup. 

We are told Bravo can corner a wild pig and point out rattlesnakes. He may join me for the hike through the canyons.

Tomorrow we are going to stay put and learn about the history of this place, which includes Pancho Villa, General Patton and Buffalo Soldiers.  

We could use some stability.

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 10:16 a.m. 31.00567 -105.55406
#2 11:32 a.m. 30.98696 -105.52647
#3 1:57 p.m. 30.92794 -105.45868
#4 3:04 p.m. 30.90574 -105.42035
#5 5:10 p.m. 30.85995 -105.37206
#6 7:38 p.m. 30.82435 -105.31735


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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