Working with the Counterrevolutionaries: The Sawmill

GeorgeSibley's Rivers9 Comments

Luce Pipher at the Crystal Creek Home He Built

Back (almost) to the present, in this meandering journey over the life and times of the Colorado River region. This is a followup on the last post, which posed the perspective that the westward expansion of Western Civilization across North America was a territorial contention between two big cultural paradigms. Dominating the contention was the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution out to convert the vast resources of the continent into economic wealth for all who were willing to ‘help themselves.’ The other idea in play was an Agrarian Counterrevolution of locally sufficient farming communities with more modest but less articulated ideas of the rich life, mostly trying to stay ahead of the Industrial Revolution and out of its way as they fumbled toward Thomas Jefferson’s semi-articulated vision of a decentralized grassroots democracy run by a ‘natural aristocracy’ of educated farmer-citizens.  In the (un)settling of the west slopes of the Southern Rockies – the headwaters of the Colorado River – the Anglo-European invasion … Read More

Westward the Curse of Empire: Two More American Cultures come to the River

GeorgeSibley's Rivers4 Comments

Train at the Alpine Tunnel 1910

The third and final human invasion of the Colorado River region in the Holocene came from the east, from England and Europe and their Atlantic Coast colonies. The native peoples of the first invasion (10-11 thousand years ago from Asia via that Bering land-bridge) had risen up against the Spaniards of the second invasion, from Europe 500 years ago, and kicked them out in 1821 (Christian calendar).  But that same year, the cultural compass in the Hispano-Mexican El Norte began to shift toward the east with William Bucknell’s mapping of the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City. In 1846, the Euro-Americans picked a fight with Mexico that they won in 1848, which gave them all the Hispano-Mexican lands north of the Rio Grande and Gila Rivers, including all but the last 100 miles of the Colorado River Basin. The Santa Fe Trail and Gila River became a southern route to the California gold fields after 1848, with a community growing … Read More

The Search for the Seven Cities of Gold

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

Spanish Invasion

In the last post here, I cobbled together an ‘Anthropocene variant’ on the rise and fall of civilizations, suggesting that the rise of advanced cultures was less a triumph of creative upward striving, and more a matter of beleaguered people engaging in creative problem-solving to deal with the challenge of populations outgrowing their systems for feeding and otherwise nurturing the people.  A friend from Minnesota responded with a link to a 1987 essay by American scientist and philosopher Jared Diamond that went beyond my mere skepticism about the ‘discovery of agriculture’ as a great step forward in the stories we tell ourselves. Titled ‘The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race’, Diamond argued, as did I, that people took up agriculture ‘not by choice but from necessity in order to feed their constantly growing numbers.’ He cited evidence indicating that this choice actually lowered the standard of living for the farming people, due to a reduced variety in … Read More

A Story about Early Times in the Colorado River Region
 and the Traumas of Success

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon

Recent posts here have mostly been about the Colorado River – its chaotic origins, the source of its waters, and the things that happen to its waters immediately after falling onto the Southern Rockies, the geology it has carved, the biota it has nurtured.  It should be no surprise, given that geography of climatic and geological circumstances, that the river has a very erratic water supply; with its headwaters nearly a thousand miles from the ocean, big north-south mountain ranges taking most of the water en route from the ocean, and big subtropical high pressure ridges of dry air in free fall stalking the whole region, it is almost miraculous that any water makes it here at all.  Looking at historical numbers, the river’s annual flow has averaged around 14.8 million acre-feet (maf) through the 20th century – a quantity that the Mississippi River pours into the Gulf of Mexico every few days. But even that average is deceptive; the … Read More

Wintering up the East River

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

Avery Cabin in Gothic Colorado

Going up to the East River valley this week, a tributary to the Gunnison and eventually the Colorado River. But no lecture today. I realize I’ve been pontificating a little in these postings. My Gunnison friend Mike calls me ‘Perfesser’ – which harks up memories from fifty years ago of my first editor, also named Mike, at the Mountain Gazette, who occasionally opened his critique of something I’d submitted by observing that ‘this one came from Uncle George the Pedant’… So this week I’m just reflecting on an experience from fifty years ago. I realized that the winter of 2021-22 is the 50th anniversary of a move, with my partner then Barbara and our 8-month-old son Sam, from downtown Crested Butte eight miles up the road to the old townsite of Gothic in the valley of the East River, to be the winter caretakers for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL, pronounced ‘rumble’ locally). Barbara and I at the time … Read More

The Water: Where does it all go?

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

Conifer forest in colorado

The previous post here ended with the observation, from the 2020 Western Water Assessment Colorado River science study, that around 170 million acre-feet of water fall on the Colorado River Basin – but only 14-17 million acre-feet end up in the actual river. Where does the other 90 percent go? And a corollary question: for such a water-stressed river basin, is there any way to get some of that lost water in the river? We observed earlier that Planet Earth is at just the right distance from the sun for water to exist as a solid, liquid and vapor; recall too that virtually all land-based life depends on it vaporizing from the salty ocean (leaving the salts behind), and then falling over the land as freshwater precipitation, liquid and solid. And the transformations between states are a function of temperature, solar intensity and wind – which means that in a time of rising ambient temperatures, water’s predilection for the vaporous … Read More

Where does our water come from? 
And what are we doing to it in the Anthropocene?

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

Gothic Mountain

For anyone seeing our planet for the first time from a satellite’s perspective, worries about water might be the last thing to cross their mind. Had we first seen the planet that way; we would probably have named it ‘Water’ rather than ‘Earth.’ Looking at its clouds and ice sheets as well as its expanses of water, we would also see from that perspective that we live on a planet at just the right distance from its star to let water exist in its solid, liquid and vapor states. A few million miles farther from the sun, toward Mars, and our water would all be frozen in its solid state. A few million miles closer to the sun and the water would all be a gaseous cloud mass suffocating the planet. In neither of those situations could life as we know it exist; all life on the planet depends on water in its liquid state – but all land-based life … Read More

A Quick Natural History of the Colorado River

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

In the last posting, I discussed the great volume of written and visual material that has emerged in recent decades about the Colorado River – First River of the Anthropocene – almost all of it increasingly critical of what we have done with and to the river. It is certainly true that a lot of what we have done reflects poor information and poor planning. We have built storage and delivery systems for a river half-again or twice larger than the River actually was – and it is now diminishing steadily from what it was. And what we have done we can only call ‘anthropocentric’ – something we have to cure ourselves of in the Anthropocene – call it now the Conscious Anthropocene. There is, yes, much to criticize – but then we were not really aware yet that we were in the Anthropocene, and that what we did made differences we needed to anticipate. But lurking behind much of … Read More

The Colorado – First River of the Anthropocene

GeorgeSibley's Rivers1 Comment

I said in the first post here that I’ll be focusing on ‘learning to live with the Anthropocene’ – a work-in-progress for everyone who will even acknowledge the existence of the Anthropocene. To refresh your mind on it – the Anthropocene is a new epoch in the evolution of the planet in which the human species is a factor in shaping the planet’s further evolution. This is an ‘honor’ we did not consciously seek – because who would want that kind of responsibility? But we have backed into it, as it were, like it or not – unconsciously, to be sure, and sometimes irresponsibly – but it’s where we are.  The Anthropocene follows the Holocene Epoch, which would probably only have been a 20,000-30,000-year interval, plus or minus, of warmth and greenness between epochs of Pleistocene glaciation, had we humans not inadvertently intervened with the advent of the Anthropocene. If you are looking for possible good news in the onset … Read More

Sibley’s Rivers? What, Why and – Why Not?

GeorgeSibley's RiversLeave a Comment

Tomichi Creek, Gunnison, CO

The first thing I want to say about ‘Sibley’s Rivers’ is to not be misled by the name; it’s not going to be all about rivers – although because the West will be the locus of focus, the rivers that run through it (or don’t) will be frequent topics.  Especially the Colorado River, which is so ominously interesting these days. What you’ll find, should you decide to visit ‘Sibley’s Rivers’ from time to time, is mostly going to be ‘rivers of words’ about learning to live in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene: this new epoch in the eternal evolution of the planet, precipitated by changes that we humans, purposefully or inadvertently, have imposed on the planet’s basic systems, changes which are now altering the conditions of existence for all life on the planet.  Most of the scientific community accepts this as a fact of life we now have to learn to live with, and measure up to. We – all of … Read More