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Disappearing Rio Grande Expedition Recap

In which we review the latest from Colin and Erich's excellent Rio Grande adventure. Check out the dispatches and photos!

By Colin McDonald, Erich Schlegel and Jessi Loerch
Garret Schooley, left, and Neil Cheesewright take a two man raft down the Upper Box of the Rio Grande Gorge.

Over the last two weeks, intrepid Rio Grande adventurers Colin McDonald and Erich Schlegel have been making their way through New Mexico. Check out what they've been up to on the river. Here are some highlights:

•    McDonald had a harrowing first person account of when things don't go as planned on a gnarly set of rapids.

Cantilevered over the river and straining against the weight of the kayak, I began to tremble.  I was cold and exhausted. My coordination was becoming steadily worse.  What I did next had to work.

Finally, the kayak was light enough I could pull it all the way up on the rock.  I slid it into the water on the upriver side of the boulder and gave the kayak a shove towards an eddy near the shore. I plunged in and thrashed for the shore in hopes that I would not get swept downstream.

•    McDonald later supplies a neat history lesson on the first use of a stream gauge.

There is, however, a different spirit lurking at the station.  This is the site of the oldest stream gauge in the country.  Back in 1888, Civil War hero and Grand Canyon explorer Major John Wesley Powell was the director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

He knew from his travels across the West that understanding exactly how much water was in the rivers would be crucial for deciding where cities and farms could develop.

The only problem was there was no method to reliably measure a river.  So Powell sent out 26-year-old Hayes Newell and 14 other recent engineering graduates to figure out how to do it on the Rio Grande.

•    And McDonald has the story of Phoebe Suina, an engineer inspired to enter her profession by the history of her tribe, the Cochiti Pueblo.

Any engineer with a basic understanding of dam construction could have told the elders that no matter what they were told and promised, the outlet was going to be placed next to the rock outcrop.

Phoebe was not alive when the sacred site was buried under the construction of the dam and inundated by the lake. But the story lived on and as a member of the Cochiti Pueblo, it drove her to attend Dartmouth College and become an environmental engineer.

“I want the tribe to have someone to sit at the table, “ she said. “Sometimes those little letters after your name matter.”

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