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.Read more
One week and 37 years ago, an expedition of undergraduates from Dartmouth College passed the campsite we are using tonight.
Dan Reicher was the biologist on that expedition. He brought along a copy of his journal from the 1977 expedition to share with us as he revisits the river. Rob Portman was a liaison with locals and went on to become the U.S. Senator for Ohio. He could not make this trip because of his work campaigning for his fellow Republicans. But he called in via a satellite phone so he could be part of the trip.
For the most part, the diary entries and stories told by Portman do not seem dated. There was trouble with the rapids in Mariscal Canyon and the supply canoe flipped. Some tourists from Kentucky told Reicher to not rush into marriage unless he was done with such adventures. There was concern about safety along the border.
But overall, there is less water to float boats and the border itself has changed. The ferry to the town of Santa Elena is gone and the city has all but disappeared, it has been on the banks of the Rio Grande for 300 years. That’s where Reicher met the advice-giving tourists. The border was closed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Residents were cut off from the income stream from tourists and from the stores of Big Bend National Park, which were the only local place to buy necessities.
Portman said the trip made him sort of fall in love with the Rio Grande and especially the border. He wrote his senior paper about the region and came back to work as a ranch hand. He later returned to the same ranch to spend his honeymoon on the Rio Grande and then later brought his children. The kayak he used on the expedition hangs in his office.
“I always tell the story that no one would be crazy enough to do it again,” he said. “I’m glad to be talking to someone who is.”
When the issue of the border wall comes up, especially in remote areas like where we are now, Portman points out it would not work.
“People say we need a wall across the border,” he said. “I do believe in control of the border, but having a wall does not make sense to me. It would create a lot of hardship in a lot of communities.”
That comment brought a sigh of relief among the river guides and river advocates I’m traveling with. Then Portman made a very divisive comment.
“My first love is still canoeing,” he said.
The canoe may not have flipped if it had not been loaded down with the gear from those in the kayaks. It is hard to forget adventure like that on the Rio Grande.
Some things never change.
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As they travel, Colin and Erich are taking water samples for the following periodic water quality tests. In partnership with The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment’s Texas Stream Team Program at Texas State University, the results will be added to a public database it helps maintain for research and monitoring water quality.
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|
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.