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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The long road, Day 117

The charm of walking long, paved roads faded quickly as trucks and cars passed by at 55 mph or more. Photo by: Colin McDonald

When I started out today from Candelaria, I had 48 miles of pavement to cover before I reached Presidio and the end of the Forgotten Reach. 

I gave myself three days.   

After 13 miles of walking, my whole lower body hurt and no matter how many breaks I took, my energy would not recover. Usually just the setting of the desert is enough. But it was hard to enjoy the distant mountains or the quiet with trucks passing by at 55 mph or more. 

The river was a mud ditch with a damp bottom. This is why this reach is called forgotten and why I am still on foot.

Then a ride appeared. A friend of a friend picked me up, and he had a friend who was going my way. I rode for 20 miles with Polo Perez in the luxury of his air-conditioned pickup.  

Perez’s grandfather used to run goats from Big Bend to Juarez. His father was a farmer in a small town just downriver of Presidio. He told stories of when he was a boy. He would swim in the river during floods to gather firewood as it floated by.  

He farmed and ranched for a while, too. But he ran into too many problems with droughts, stolen cattle and being accused by law enforcement of bringing livestock across the river illegally. He has worked construction for the last 20 years. It pays the bills, but it is not what he loves.   

I hope to catch up with him in Presidio later this week. He said he would show me the fields he used to work. They were some of the oldest working farmland in Texas. Now the mesquite and cedar have taken over.  

It takes constant work to maintain a field. What is the point if there is no water?  

So the field sits and rests until the water returns.   

I’m going to do the same.  I only have one day of walking left.

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 8:12 a.m. 30.13895 -104.68379
#2 9:08 a.m. 30.12438 -104.67799
#3 10:22 a.m. 30.07931 -104.68541
#4 11:01 a.m. 30.04723 -104.69322
#5 12:12 p.m. 30.01088 -104.68582
#6 1:08 p.m. 29.99336 -104.68408
#7 2:07 p.m. 29.9746 -104.67577


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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