One river, a myriad of names:
to the Keresan, Tewa, and Tiwa peoples (in their own tongues)
to the Navajo in their own tongue (South denotes “female” to the Dine)
to the Spanish and Mexicans, meaning the “Wild” or “Brave River
of the North
or the North River to the Spanish to denote the upper reaches of the
or Big River on the north side of the Mexican border in modern
to many Anglos
|The Rio Grande at Albuquerque|
To say the Rio
is to revel in redundancy. Translated into English, the three
words say the Big River River. However one calls it, the Rio Grande is the
fourth or fifth longest river in North America and the 20th
in the world. It rises as a snow-fed stream in the Rockies in Hinsdale County
in southern Colorado. Just under 1,900 miles downstream, it empties into the
Gulf of New Mexico. A portion of the river serves as the border between the
United States and Mexico (more specifically, the great state of Texas on one
side and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas
on the other). Shifts in the channel have led to border disputes between the
two nations from time to time, and some of the more unstable areas have been
converted into canals. A century-old dispute over the location of the border at
El Paso, Texas wasn’t settled until 1968 when the water was diverted into just
such a channel.
|Cochiti Dam on the Rio Grande|
The Rio Grande was declared a Wild and Scenic River, which
it truly was until dams were constructed for irrigation, flood control, and
river flow purposes. Elephant Butte Dam (1916) and Caballo Dam (1938) create
large reservoirs in New Mexico. Amistad and Falcon Dams downstream do the same
in Texas. With the addition of the Cochiti, Abiquiu, Galisteo, and Jemez Canyon
Dams in New Mexico, the Rio is truly a dammed river. Only two portions of it
remain a wild and scenic: The chasm country around Taos, New Mexico and the Big
Bend area in Texas.
A source of drinking, irrigation, and recreational water
for many competing societal and cultural groups (in both Mexico and the United
States), the Rio Grande is over-appropriated. Translation: People demand more
water from the river than there is water in the river.
European accounts of the river begin with a survey
expedition sent by the Spanish crown in 1519. The famous (or infamous,
depending upon your viewpoint) explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado journeyed
up the Rio Bravo in 1540 in search of rumored riches but encountered only
various Pueblo Indian communities in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. Americans
Zebulon Pike (1807) and John C. Fremont (1848-49) explored the upper Rio Grande
Area. Long before any of these Interlopers appeared on the scene, the river’s
nurturing banks were home to a host of Aboriginal peoples.
In Chapter 5 of The
our intrepid hero, BJ Vinson, learns from GPS readings that
the bright orange Porsche Boxter he’s been hunting is in Taos. He charter’s Jim
Gray’s Cessna Skycatcher for the 132-mile trip north (less than that as the
crow—or Cessna—flies). As is often the case in New Mexico in August, weather
hangs off to the west, threatening to ground them. Jim is an ex-military fixed
wing and helicopter pilot who got out of the service and went into the flying
business for himself.
As they take off from Albuquerque’s Double Eagle Airport,
the Rio Grande becomes visible almost immediately. Allow me to cite a few
paragraphs from the book as BJ looks down from an eagle’s viewpoint on the
really amazing how the Rio Grande changes character. In Albuquerque, it roams
around in a broad channel made for a bigger river.”
can blame that on the dams. When the Rio Grande was declared a wild and scenic
river, it flooded regularly. Then they put in all the dams. The way I look at
it, they put an end to the flooding all right, but the river and the Bosque are
paying the price. They’re both slowly dying.” The Bosque was a 200-mile swath
of cottonwood forest lining both banks of the Rio.
Santa Fe, the water flowing beneath the plane picked up energy, shimmering in
the sunlight as it rushed over rocks on its fall from the high country. The
farther north we traveled, the wilder the river became. Soon it was white water
rafting country. A few miles below Taos, the true might and determination of
the river became apparent as it raced down long boulder gardens to spill out of
the black volcanic canyons of the Taos Box. From above, the river appeared to
sink, but in reality, the terrain rose on its climb north toward Colorado.
the eons, gravity and friction and the sheer power of water molecules had
carved a deep crevasse through the hard basalt of the Taos Plateau. The Rio
Grande Gorge Bridge spanned that spectacular canyon ten miles west-northwest of
Taos. We circled over the awesome 500-foot cantilevered steel and concrete
marvel of modern engineering as we lined up for a landing at the town’s small
|The Taos Bridge |
over the Rio Grande Gorge
I hope that gives the reader a pretty good picture of the
mighty Rio Grande, at least the portion flowing through New Mexico.
Next week: Maybe
some more from
THE BISTI BUSINESS.
New posts are
published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.