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Disappearing Rio Grande Expedition Recap

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

By Colin McDonald 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 adventurer Colin McDonald continues his way through the portion of the Rio Grande marked by deep, remote canyons as well as rugged stretches. Check out what he's been up to on the river. Here are some highlights:

•    Colin profiles a man who has spent a lifetime boating the Rio Grande:

Jack Skiles, 83, has taken boats down the Rio Grande since he was 10 years old. It was something his father liked to do. It’s now a family tradition that spans four generations.  

“The first boats were just homemade water boats,” Skiles said. “People would be just amazed I was floating ... It was considered dangerous. And in wooden boats it probably was.”  


Skiles never seems to think the river is too dangerous. He grew up in Langtry on the banks of the river. When he was 10, the International Boundary and Water Commission paid him to take a weekly sample from the Rio Grande. When the river was flooding above 10 feet, he would get paid to take a sample every hour. He was paid $1 for each sample.

•    Colin receives an unexpected flyover:

[The helicopter] 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.

•    And a nickname is coined:

I got a great view of this from the stern of the canoe as we were sucked in under the overhang. I had just enough time to wonder if the canoe would be crushed by the weight of the river pushing it against the rock or if it would just get sucked below the surface. It was like being in the backseat of a car that is stuck on the railroad tracks as a train rolls in.   

But, with perfect timing, Jessica was able to get off two powerful strokes while bent in half under the overhang. She propelled the bow of the canoe past the end of the wall. With the bow in the clear water that was moving away from the wall, the stern broke away from the grip of the current, saving us from a very unpleasant swim.  


Her nickname is Big Strokes. 

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