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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 McDonald pours snowmelt, which he collected in June from a snowfield at the headwaters of the Rio Grande in Colorado, into the Gulf of Mexico.

Intrepid river adventurer Colin McDonald continues his way through the final stretches of the Rio Grande in its journey to the Gulf. Check out what he's been up to on the river. Here are some highlights:

•    McDonald hits the last leg of the journey.

The Rio Grande is never a dull place to paddle ... It felt more like wrestling than paddling.

But we moved downriver. Oyster beds started to appear. The salinity steadily climbed and then spiked too high to be registered with my gear.

A lighthouse, which stands less than half a mile from the mouth of the Rio Grande in Mexico, rose above the horizon.

We could see the spray ripped from the waves by the wind and, finally, a break in the dunes. The Gulf of Mexico sat before us, teeming with birds, as the surf roared.

•    McDonald encounters the river's refuge.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is made up of 135 separate properties scattered across four counties along the banks of the Rio Grande. 

The parcels cover everything from a beach on the Gulf of Mexico to limestone formations near Roma, Texas.  

Established piece by piece, it is one of the most confusing refuges to visit ... The really confusing part comes when you look at the refuge’s mission. The goal is to establish a corridor of habitat through the valley so that animals, like the endangered ocelot, can freely roam and have a chance at surviving. 

But to do this, refuge manager Bryan Winton has a lot to balance. He is keeping some agriculture going to maintain water rights. That allows him to help wetlands that were left high and dry by the levees, which were built to open up land for farming and development. 

•    Cold weather pushes the team through the 100-mile milestone.

We spent the day paddling. It’s too cold and wet for us to stand still.  

As a result, we blew by the 100-miles-left-to-the-Gulf mark and had no idea. We also passed the test plot where the USDA is experimenting with insects that dine on river cane to see if they will knock back the invasive plant. The researcher I was hoping to meet was at home with the flu.  

We also portaged three dams. I was tempted to run the first one, but Keith pointed out the consequences of flipping on a 45-degree day with no place to dry and warm up. The portage only took 10 minutes.  

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