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Paddling down the Colorado River to surface its secrets

Will Stauffer-Norris and Zak Podmore traveled 1,700 miles to assess the state of the beautiful but threatened Colorado River.

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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.

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“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.”

During the trip, the two would sometimes stop and hike through areas on shore that looked particularly interesting. Boredom during their hours on the water wasn’t a problem, Podmore says. “We were at some of the most spectacular places in North America, in my opinion,” he says. “That was entertainment enough.”

“We ran out of things to talk about pretty quickly,” Stauffer-Norris adds, laughing.

They said that their biggest goal now that the journey is over is to inform people about what they saw. “We felt like we had the responsibility to get the message out there, that there was no water” in the southern Colorado River, Podmore says.

On Feb. 3, Stauffer-Norris and Podmore communicated by Skype with members of the US Department of the Interior about what they saw on their trip. The two will also present their findings at the yearly conference of the State of the Rockies Project in April.

They'd like those who live along the Colorado River to realize how their actions affect others, Stauffer-Norris says. If a person in Wyoming dumps garbage in the water, that will cause problems for someone living in Mexico.           

“People will realize how interconnected the system is,” he says.

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