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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Dogs and guns, Day 109

One of David Arnold's dogs balances on the back seat of an all-terrain vehicle while David Lozano and Jason Jones take a tour of the 9,000-acre Indian Hot Springs. Photo by: Colin McDonald

When David Arnold says “I'm basically the law around here,” he is not joking.  

U.S. Border Patrol agents once came to his door to tell him a cartel had put a hit on him. They were there to escort him off the property. He thanked them and said he would be staying.  

Arnold is the caretaker at Indian Hot Springs. He loves the country and the solitude. He can go two months without seeing another human.  

People have shot at him before and he has returned fire. He has body armor. His rifle skills impressed the U.S. Army Special Forces who came to train on the ranch before being deployed to Afghanistan. He is always armed. Most of all, he has family on both sides of the river. They all look out for each other.  

They have to. When the river floods, it carves through the levees like they were sand castles. The roads can disappear in an instant when it rains. It can be months or years before they are repaired. Even when they are in good shape, it takes two hours or more to get to a hospital. 

But the rains bring the good times. When they don’t come, which is most of the time, people are trying to make a living in a desert where it takes several hundred acres to raise one cow.  

We spent the day with Arnold, seeing the ranch, talking about and shooting guns, and gaining an appreciation for a place where you have to take care of everything yourself.   

Even the dogs take care of themselves. On our 15-mile drive around the ranch, they loped along in the middle of the day, easily keeping up with us. They took side trips into the brush to scare up lizards, quail, jackrabbits and anything else they could. Sometimes, one of them would join us in the all-terrain vehicle to get an ear scratched. 

The more agile ones would jump out of the moving vehicle to return to the hunt.  

It's not a safe life, but it's rarely boring. 

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 8:23 a.m. 30.82432 -105.31738
#2 1:05 p.m. 30.82628 -105.29176
#3 1:46 p.m. 30.82936 -105.31065
#4 2:27 p.m. 30.85773 -105.28685
#5 2:53 p.m. 30.83406 -105.26971
#6 3:12 p.m. 30.82841 -105.27072
#7 4:58 p.m. 30.82446 -105.31754


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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