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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.

Intrepid river adventurers Colin McDonald and Erich Schlegel are back on the Rio Grande after taking some time away. Check out what they've been up to on the river. Here are some highlights:

•    The river explorers return to the Rio Grande as the journey now enters the Texas portion.

There was traffic between Austin and San Antonio, confusing directions, tension about forgotten gear, late arrivals and hours spent riding together in the cab of a pickup.  

Then we saw the Rio Grande. ... The river is a brown churning mass where we saw it just below Presidio. Mexico is dumping water out of its reservoirs on the Rio Conchos as it deals with surprisingly strong monsoon rains. The Rio Conchos is the Lower Rio Grande’s largest tributary. If it stays high, we will have no problem making miles and staying on schedule.

•    Colin checks in with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo where it is increasingly difficult to keep a connection with a sacred river.

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is an urban reservation. The suburbs of El Paso surround its checkerboard land. The farmland is mostly gone. It is federally recognized but had to shut down its casino because of objections from the State of Texas. It has some water rights, but they are undefined and practically useless. 

The pueblo has to request access to the river to perform ceremonies a month in advance.  

The river runs dry by their lands anyway. The tribe’s lawyer, Ron Jackson, said he once tried to explain to the Texas Department of Transportation that the tribe did not have sacred sites on the river, but that the entire river was sacred.  

To them, it is P’ehla Euwla, River Big. It is their culture.  It is more important than even the most sacred drum.

•    And Colin visits with David Arnold, who, it becomes apparent, is the epitome of the lone, self-reliant man you might expect to find in these parts.

U.S. Border Patrol agents once came to his door to tell him a cartel had put a hit on him. They were there to escort him off the property. He thanked them and said he would be staying.

Arnold is the caretaker at Indian Hot Springs. He loves the country and the solitude. He can go two months without seeing another human.

People have shot at him before and he has returned fire. He has body armor. His rifle skills impressed the U.S. Army Special Forces who came to train on the ranch before being deployed to Afghanistan. He is always armed. Most of all, he has family on both sides of the river. They all look out for each other.  

They have to. When the river floods, it carves through the levees like they were sand castles. The roads can disappear in an instant when it rains. It can be months or years before they are repaired. Even when they are in good shape, it takes two hours or more to get to a hospital. 

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