This land of elegant light and vast mountainous spaces is shaped and distinguished by its rivers, whether rivulets sourced in Rocky Mountain snowfields or in the desert harshness where temperatures climb at the border with Mexico. Canyons are the byword here in a landscape extravaganza beyond compare: the Arkansas bursting out of the southern Rockies, the Green in its 450-mile dam-free red-rock wonderland, the Rio Grande’s edgy frontier of cacti, and, of course, the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon—one of a kind worldwide.
Here in the Yampa and Green Rivers we have three-foot-long endangered pikeminnows that migrate hundreds of miles up and down the desert waterways, while greenback cutthroat trout are endemic to a few Rocky Mountain streams. Here cottonwood groves along the waterways account for most of the wildlife habitat in an enormous geographic estate now troubled by energy development, thirsty cities, depleted groundwater and booming growth.
The lifeline of the Colorado River sustains more than 36 million people, along with a great majority of our nation’s food supply, and endangered fish and wildlife across seven states and two countries. The Colorado also supports a $26 billion dollar recreation economy that supports tens of thousands of jobs across the west. However, demand on the river’s water exceeds its supply, leaving the river so over-tapped that it dries up nearly 100 miles from its mouth at the Sea of Cortez.
Because of water’s scarcity across the Southwest, rivers are all the more precious. They’ve drawn the attention of path-breakers in conservation, from Theodore Roosevelt’s landmark protection of the Grand Canyon to David Brower’s embattled fights to stop new dam construction on the Colorado, the Yampa, the Green, and many others. The lay of the land, the quality of the light, and the flow of water all inspire the inheritors of these rivers to do more to protect what’s left of a place that’s like no other.