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
We have not seen anyone for two days. We have seen some houses on bluffs several hundred feet above the river on the Texas side and a few dirt roads on both banks, but not a single person.
Because we are now below the usual takeout for the Lower Canyons and paddling mid-week, we will likely not see anyone until we reach Langtry, Texas, some 60 miles downstream.
What we are seeing is a lot more biodiversity. Mussel shells are becoming common and larger along the muddy riverbanks. There are more turtles basking in the sun. The great blue herons seem to like this stretch as well and we see several every day. A pair of red-tailed hawks circled our camp this evening. I literally stumbled over a foot-long catfish that was flopping in the shallows alongside a rapid this afternoon.
No other section of the Rio Grande over the last 1,100 miles has felt this wild and remote.
Adding to the adventure, our only guide to the region is a Geological Survey map from 1985. It’s a great map that was given to us by Michael Ryan, National Park Service river ranger. But it forces us to rely on our ears and pay attention to changes in the canyon walls to guess when rapids are coming or where there could be a campsite.
We have already run three rapids this way.
The last one had a nice, low overhanging cliff at the end on the Texas bank. It was at an angle to the main flow, so the majority of the river was forced against the wall. Some of the water boiled up against the limestone, but most seemed to just slip downward.
I got a great view of this from the stern of the canoe as we were sucked in under the overhang. I had just enough time to wonder if the canoe would be crushed by the weight of the river pushing it against the rock or if it would just get sucked below the surface. It was like being in the backseat of a car that is stuck on the railroad tracks as a train rolls in.
But, with perfect timing, Jessica was able to get off two powerful strokes while bent in half under the overhang. She propelled the bow of the canoe past the end of the wall. With the bow in the clear water that was moving away from the wall, the stern broke away from the grip of the current, saving us from a very unpleasant swim.
Although she had little experience with camping or paddling, Jessica jumped at the chance to see the Lower Canyons and shoot photos for this blog. After nearly getting hypothermia and seeing some of the canyon walls from a very close distance, she still says she is happy to have come and is ready for the next 90 miles of river we have to travel.
Her nickname is Big Strokes.
But after some 20 miles of paddling and the close encounter with the canyon wall, we both felt we had covered enough ground. We started looking for the broken layers of limestone that create the rock ledges that we like to camp on.
We found some that were freshly washed by the recent flood. Based off the high water mark, the rocks we are sleeping on tonight were under 6 feet of water a couple days ago.
Maybe that is why no one is around.
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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.