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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
Colin takes the canoe, minus all electronics, through the upper portion of Upper Madison Falls.

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 sleuths out a fish kill and decides it's time to take a break:

For four days, dead and dying fish have washed ashore at the boat ramp at the mouth of the Pecos River.

The one advantage of the temperatures dropping near freezing every night was the stench of the rotting gar, largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, shad and minnows was not too bad. The layer of slime that was growing on the cement ramp, however, was a bit treacherous. 

I took it as a sign it was time to go home. After spending two month on the river there is gear, relationships and injuries to mend. I also have to work out the logistics for the last 600 miles.

•    Colin comes across the Devils River, the state's cleanest river:

The old model of putting a fence around the pretty parts is no longer enough. It is an important first step, but there also has to be protection for the broader system.

The Devils is an easy place to see this connection. The river is fed by springs that draw from the Trinity Edwards Aquifer.  If that aquifer is drawn down, there would be no springs and the Devils would become a dry arroyo. 

The loss would be more than just a difficult-to-access swimming hole. 

The only reason the Rio Grande does not remain a salty stream after it leaves Big Bend National Park is because of clear freshwater springs like those on the Devils that flow out of the Trinity Edwards.

•    Colin explores an abandoned railroad tunnel at the Pecos River:

I could not resist the climb up to check them out. The west tunnel is nearly a half-mile long with two side tunnels cut out to the cliff edge that overlooks the river.  

Inside, it smelled of bat guano and the floor was covered in several inches of black dust. A partially mummified goat was near the east entrance. A herd of at least 50 were scattered along the cliffs of the east entrance and their constant calls to each other echoed through the tunnel.  

From there, it was a short paddle to the confluence of the Pecos River. The supports of the old railroad bridge are buried under mud — as is just about everything else. We camped at the base of the cliffs on the firmest ground we could find.

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