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Paddling down the Colorado River to surface its secrets

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Both men graduated from Colorado College last May. Both have been on the water since childhood, kayaking and participating in other activities.

Stauffer-Norris in particular had wanted to do a longer-than-usual water voyage. “I just kind of wanted to see what would happen if you extended the trip over the entire river, being away from civilization,” he says.

When they mentioned the trip to a professor at Colorado College, he suggested they link it to the State of the Rockies Project, in which individuals work together to gather data about problems faced by the Rocky Mountain region and bring the problems to the public’s attention. The project for the 2011-2012 school year was to focus on the Colorado River Basin, an area of study that dovetailed with Stauffer-Norris and Podmore’s Source to Sea project.

One of the ideas they most want to impress upon people about the Colorado River, Stauffer-Norris says, is that the river is, in fact, a single body of water – a fact people often forget. “A lot of people don't think of the river as a whole,” he says.

As the two men paddled along they’d yell to people on shore about their plan to travel the entire river. They'd often get confused reactions from those who didn't realize that the river went as far as it does.

“You say, 'We're going to Mexico!' ” Stauffer-Norris says. “And people are like, 'What?' ”

They estimate they traveled 1,700 miles during their the four-month journey, with friends and their parents meeting them at a few spots. Their biggest discovery, Podmore says, was when they got further south.

“The findings were that there really wasn't a river anymore,” he says.

Stauffer-Norris says most of the water is visibly tainted as the river winds south. “It's pretty polluted,” he says. “There's not much left.”

The toughest part of the trip was when they reached Mexico and found there wasn’t any water to float on anymore, Stauffer-Norris says. “We had to load up all our water, our food, our rafts, and walk across the desert. We had to slog through knee-deep mud.”

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