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
In the last 72 hours it has rained for at least 60. We have seen the sun for all of 30 seconds.
At first, the clouds and constant mist were a pleasant break from the heat and harsh light of the desert. I felt like I was back home in the Pacific Northwest.
Then clothes became saturated, tents failed to keep sleeping bags dry and hypothermia became a very real issue to contend with.
Yesterday we broke camp, packed the wet gear and made a mad dash for Hot Springs Rapid only to discover that Louis Aulbach’s guidebook to the Lower Canyons is correct. The springs are a lukewarm 85 degrees. They have enough heat to stop teeth from chattering, but not for long.
Sitting in the pools as minnows nibbled at our barley submerged legs, we complained until cold reality forced us to seek shelter. I gave my dry tent to Jessica and set up under an overhang in the cliffs above our camp.
Now the rain has stopped and I’ve gotten a chance to climb up to the south rim of the canyon to send out this post.
The canyon we are staying at the mouth of is a popular route for those wishing to cross the Rio Grande.
Yesterday, we met Jesse Pena and Antonio Hernandez as they were traveling south. Soaked to the skin, they were all smiles and not bothered by the oven- and refrigerator-sized boulders that had just fallen off the canyon wall. It was the second slide I had seen that day.
That’s what happens when it rains in the canyons, they explained to me before heading to their own overhang to start a fire and warm up. They would spend the night there and then hike on to Pena’s ranch near the head of one of the side canyons. They see gringos on the river all the time. Hernandez said it is especially popular with Boy Scouts.
We took it as advice and are doing our best to be prepared and not do anything dumb.
Although the rain has stopped, the river continues to rise. It’s already 6 or 7 feet above what it was when we got off and it continues to creep up. It’s the color of a latte and so thick with sediment that even the caps of the crashing waves stay brown.
In front of our campsite are standing waves steep and high enough to put our 18-foot canoe on end. We talk about what line we would take through them to avoid the biggest waves as we watch small trees float by. We both know, however, that we are going to stay at our high camp until the river calms down.
Sudden rises of the river like this are common. A group of firefighters from Austin are upstream from us. They’re on their annual trip through the Lower Canyons. The organizer of the group, Craig Walker, has been doing trips like this in West Texas for almost 30 years. He said he has seen the river rise as much as 8 feet overnight.
But that is part of the charm of the Lower Canyons. You come out and deal with whatever mood the river is in.
For Walker and his friends, the trip is ten days of eating well, catching catfish, telling stories and floating through canyons. He won’t let anyone call him chief while he is out. That’s only for work when he is back in the city.
“It completely clears your mind coming out here,” he said.
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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.