SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO – Apologies. This is kinda convoluted, but it’s what happened.
One of my journalistic techniques is to try to put myself in a place where something interesting is likely to happen, something real, and then wait. So at lunchtime today, I parked in the shade of the San Luis Bridge on the Baja-Sonora border to wait for a river to arrive. (Background on how long the Colorado has been dry here, and why it was about to get wet, can be found here.)
I knew the water, which had been released into a mostly dry Colorado Sunday 22 miles upstream, was near, but I wasn’t sure how near. My goal was to be at the San Luis Bridge when the water got there.
Two guys from Conagua, the Mexican national water commission, drove up in a white pickup. We didn’t speak one another’s language, but in a pantomime that included pointing at watches and gesturing upstream, I concluded that it would be a matter of hours, they couldn’t be sure how many. I ate half my sandwich.
A couple of young men had been prowling up the riverbed and back to the bridge on four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles. I flagged one of them down. His name was Juan Hernandez. I asked him if he’d seen the water. He said yes, and asked if I wanted to hop on back and go see it.
I must explain at this point that I am not a particularly adventurous person. Hopping on the back of a Honda all terrain vehicle and trundling off across the desert is not the sort of thing I take easily to. But, well, I did want to see the water and I was waiting for something to happen. This seemed like something, so off we went.
I wish I had a better sense of how long or far Juan schlepped me through a sandy riverbed clogged with tamarisk, and then suddenly there was water. Juan turned off the Honda’s engine, and there was quiet. It wasn’t what I expected. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I expected – water creeping slowly forward into dry sand, I guess. There was a small main channel that was moving pretty well, deep enough that we would have gotten plenty wet trying to cross. And in the quiet, we heard bubbles. Water was flowing over dry sand, and air was bubbling up through it.
Here’s a picture of Juan, standing next to the Colorado River, which hasn’t flowed very much through his community of San Luis in recent years:
Juan drove me around to a few more spots before swinging back to the south and heading up the main river channel so we could see the front of the water headed to the San Luis Bridge.
We were, I guess, less than a mile from the San Luis Bridge when we came across two guys in a nice late model white Ford Lobo FX4 Off Road pickup. Stuck in the main river channel. With the water maybe 50 yards upstream from them and creeping toward the truck. There was jumping and bouncing and revving and a sense of urgency because of the impending arrival of a river. And continued stuckness. Then, just as the water reached the channel behind the truck, as you see in the picture above, not one but two men appeared on a low bluff to the west, with shovels. This all seemed like magic to me. I am told by those more experienced in Colorado River Delta travel that sand stuckness is common. Flowing water threatening you when you’re stuck in the sand, less so. The magical appearance of men with shovels?
With the shoveling well underway but the truck still stuck, Juan asked me to hop on back so he could return to the bridge in search of further assistance. Juan dropped me off, and within minutes, I saw Juan, the pilot fish, leading an even larger pickup, equipped with a winch, back up the riverbed. And perhaps 15 minutes later, the happy ending, as pilot fish, Ford Lobo FX4 Off Road and the giant rescue truck all returned to safety.
Eventually, the river did arrive at San Luis, lots of people showed up to greet it, and a fine time seems to have been had by all: