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
The helicopter was flying low and slow behind us. It did not seem to be following a set path. For about half an hour, we caught glimpses of it rising above and dropping below hilltops and cliffs. The roar of its engine and beat of its blades came and went depending upon the angle of the side canyons and the direction of the wind. I thought it was part of a cattle roundup.
Then it swooped around a bend in the river behind us and flew in a straight line. It hovered above the Texas shore. On the side was written Homeland Security.
The pilot, or whoever was sitting in the forward right seat, gave us a wave. We smiled and waved back. I gave him a thumbs-up to indicate we were fine. He nodded and flew away following the river, leaving us to the murmur of the wind and water.
I wonder, with the exception of the flyover, if much has changed on this reach over the last 100 years. The pilot was the first person we have seen in three days.
In June of 1853, Lieutenant Nathaniel Michler was the head of an expedition that surveyed the 125 miles of the Rio Grande we are currently paddling.
“The bed is narrow, and hemmed in by continuous and perfect walls of natural masonry, varying from 50 to 300 feet in height,” he wrote in his report. “The breadth of the river being extremely contracted, these structures, seen from our boats, look stupendous as they rise perpendicularly from the water. It is not infrequently the case that we travel for miles without being able to find a spot on which to land. ”
We have spent most of the last two weeks looking at the same walls and wondering where we will be able to camp. Maybe that aspect of traveling the Rio Grande will never change.
We have the added fun of dealing with walls of invasive river cane, but we don’t have to worry about Apaches raiding our camp or navigating the river in poorly made wooden boats that have to be hauled by wagon. And we can call in a helicopter.
The place we finally found to land was a river gauging station. It marks the beginning of the end for this reach of the free-flowing Rio Grande. We will soon cross the high-water mark for Lake Amistad and start seeing the increased deposits of mud as the river bottom turns into a lake bottom.
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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.