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Vail Daily column: Book follows Colorado River from snowpack to sea

Rachel Barfield
Curious Nature
The majestic Colorado River meanders through our valley, taking its time on its journey towards the sea.
Rick Spitzer | Special to the Daily |

A long day of skiing has come to an end. Your legs are burning, your cheeks are flushed and you are looking forward to the warm comforts of home. Flashing through your mind are some of the remarkable views offered from the mountain peaks. You have that overwhelming sense of appreciation for this beautiful land. It is what keeps you coming back. Getting to be a part of the mountain’s natural landscape, to be one with the land and animals, if only briefly, is an exhilarating feeling. As you retire to your warm retreat, ready to curl up with a good read this winter, I encourage you to continue your connection to these mountains by reading “Running Dry,” by Jonathan Waterman.

Life-giving Colorado River

Sponsored by National Geographic, Waterman takes you with him on his incredible five-month adventure down the Colorado River. This book is both an easy, enjoyable read as well as a much needed call for environmental action in the state of Colorado. As an accomplished filmmaker, Waterman paints detailed imagery throughout the entire novel. A local of Carbondale, he was born and raised by the shores of the life-giving Colorado River. Like many of us, he has seen it change over the years as demands for the powerful river rise, and supply of water decreases; and he has some concerns.



Motivated by these hometown roots and a desire for answers, Waterman decides to investigate the river firsthand on a documented “journey from source to sea down the Colorado River.” Waterman sets off on his adventure on the last day of May after the heaviest winter in 20 years, right in our backyard, Long’s Peak. He takes limited supplies, intending to ride the river wherever it leads him (hell or high water). Interviewing those people most affected by the river along the way, Waterman’s journey quickly becomes something bigger than just one man’s need for answers. It highlights the incredible power the Colorado River brings to the Southwest. From long standing Native American tribes, to family farmers, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts, this river means life.

Rarity of Reaching Sea



For many of us living in the mountains, a good snowpack means a great ski season. While this is true, the snowpack that forms here in our own neighborhoods is the force that drives the Colorado River all the way to the Gulf of California. In recent years, this has been a rarity. The mighty and powerful river no longer reaches the sea. Instead, it is diverted for irrigation and urban use. The river is being pulled in many different directions along its path. Rather than feeling dejected about the state of things, Waterman is able to spark hope that awareness is all that is needed to help make the necessary changes to protect this flowing life force. “Running Dry” is a well thought out, incredibly moving adventure. For anyone who loves and respects these mountains, I guarantee this book will strike a chord.

If the idea of a family movie night is also appealing, then there are many powerful documentaries on the Colorado’s changing journey, such as “Delta Dawn,” by Peter McBride, and “Remains of a River,” by Will Stauffer-Norris and Zak Podmore. Remember that, as we enjoy the great outdoors, we also have a responsibility to protect it for future generations.

Rachel Barfield is a naturalist at the Walking Mountains Science Center. She has a passion for water conservation and exploration and is a big advocate for book clubs. She recommends getting a group of friends together and reading powerful books as often as possible.


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