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
Despite the fences, helicopters, trucks, motion sensors and cameras, it is apparently not too difficult to cross the Rio Grande unnoticed.
As I paddled into Laredo at dusk, I saw a group of four people with inner tubes wade and float across the chest-deep river.
A white Border Patrol truck was parked less than a quarter mile away and did not move.
I was stumped. I wanted to get to the bridge and put the 42 miles of paddling behind me. The folks crossing did not see me until they were climbing out on the U.S. side where they crouched below the 10-foot riverbank. We stared at each other for a moment.
It was the second group I had seen that day. The first was a gathering of about 40 who were sitting on the Mexican bank on a much wider and deeper reach of the river. The air temperature was in the low 50s and the water was about the same. It was not a good day for a swim. Some of them tried to hide behind the brush, but the group was so large, there was no point.
The only member of the group with a jacket, and the fattest, stood up and asked in Spanish if I was fishing. It’s by far the most common question I’m asked from either bank. If I say no, the people asking always seem disappointed.
I did not want to cause problems with fat jacket man so I lied and said I was fishing while I made my way to the gulf.
He gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up sign. I never stopped paddling.
Later on, I rounded a river bend to see a man with a pistol strapped to his leg and wearing full camouflage. He was crouched behind a camera and taking photos of me.
James Boyd is a police officer in Laredo and he never goes to the river unarmed. He told me he usually carries a rifle as well but did not want to scare me. He has been following this blog. He decided to take a break from his hobby of shooting photos of whitetail deer along the Rio Grande to take photos of me on the river.
He is a self-described border rat. He grew up in McAllen and worked as a police officer in Del Rio and Laredo for 20 years.
“They are just going to think you are a crazy gringo,” he said of folks who see me on the river.
I gathered he thought the same. Then he said he was envious of the project.
Between the thumbs-up from the first group and Boyd’s assessment, I felt a bit bolder with the second group.
The only reason I saw them in the failing light was because I was trying to get a photo of the Laredo skyline. They were moving quickly and I passed them just as they reached the United States.
So we looked at each other for a moment. I motioned that I would be quiet and kept paddling.
Again, the apparent leader of the group called out to me. This time he gave the peace sign.
In less than a minute they were gone, scrambling up the bank and into a white van. I watched them go and then docked my canoe on the Border Patrol boat ramp.
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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.