In part one of this series last month, we introduced the effort by Hannes Zacharias of Lexana, Kansas, to follow a drop of water from the headwaters of the Arkansas River in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. He is making the trip mostly by kayak, but as you’ll read in the following account, he’s not averse to employing other means of transportation, including horses. – Mike Rosso
Since my last report, I have seen the Arkansas River swell in abundance and then disappear into the Kansas prairie, only to re-emerge and grow into a large transportation corridor.
I am currently in Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, some 20 miles east of Muskogee on the Arkansas. The river here is deep and broad, with a minimum of nine feet in the channel to accommodate barges ferrying fertilizer, grain, and raw material for manufacturing to and from the port of Catoosa and Muskogee.
Taking up where we left off a month ago, I was able to paddle the river from eastern Colorado into western Kansas by virtue of Kansas calling upon its portion of water from the John Martin Reservoir near Fort Lyon. Camping out below the dam following my paddling across the reservoir, I was disappointed to see virtually no water being discharged from the reservoir thus halting my trip. To my delight the next morning, the discharge rate went from 100 CFS (cubic feet per second) to 1,300 CFS. This created a flood of water I could ride across the Kansas border. This amount of water yielded the exact amount negotiated with Colorado to cross the Kansas border. But for the occasional barbed and electric wires crossing the river in Eastern Colorado, I was able to paddle all the way to Kendall, Kansas. There, irrigation takes over once again, harvesting 100 percent of the Arkansas River water for diversion to get irrigation channels. This made paddling impossible since 100 percent of the water is taken for such purposes at Deerfield, Kansas just west of Garden City. As a result, I had to find other means of exploring the river. I was able to hike small portions of the river sand bed, explored it on horseback, and traversed it on an all-terrain vehicle for some 65 miles. At one point, I was able to go back upriver and ride a horse in the water, occasionally swimming with it through the deeper portions. This was a thrill, even for a person growing up in Dodge City. One of the more unusual ways of transporting my kayak, was by Conestoga wagon through the streets of Dodge City, an unusual sight to be sure. Read more
After the driest spell in recent memory, the rains came pitter-pattering on the leaves of thirsty plants, splattering upon the dusty ground and at last creating a steady pouring sound as the water streamed from the roof splashing into the flower beds.
I’d just finished a long period of “work” which mostly involved wrangling words for money, but also writing various elegies for my mother-in-law Rosemary, who’d died July 10 at the age of 98. She’d lived a colorful and lengthy life, serving as a dietitian on a troopship in World War II, learning to pilot a single-engine plane, and perhaps most adventurously, raising six children, including Mary.
When I’d at last finished with this word-crafting, I realized that the rains had come and I really didn’t want to write anything anymore for a good long while, if ever. I felt a bit like Forrest Gump stopping in the middle of the desert and saying he was tired and ready to go home. Of course there is no news crew offering me a ride out of here.
I’ve watched this summer as the unprecedented heat has turned my mountain surroundings into a strange desert. Yucca and cactus which typically cling to the south-facing hillsides to stay warm and dry at this altitude have literally died. Some piñons and ponderosa pines randomly burst into tawny death, while others nearby flourish despite the fact there’s been no significant rain in months. Drought-hardy species like showy locoweed desiccated mid-bloom, while the orange paintbrush produced brilliant fluorescent flowers above leaves and stems bleached by the sun. The native grasses, the grama and fescue, stayed dormant leaving the summer landscape in its usual winter brown. Read more
I stare in wonder at the local post office parking lot as I leash my little papillon dog to pick up my mail. The parking lot is full of SUVs and pickups, most with a dog inside waiting patiently for his “significant other” to emerge from those hallowed halls and drive him home a mile or two away.
Later in the day, this wonderment continues as I survey the grocery store parking lot full of the same vehicles. Further observation shows most of the owners of the vehicles emerging from the store with only one or two bags of groceries; a few, however, are there to get a weeks worth of food, which certainly justifies transporting by motor vehicle.
In the age when scientists put climate change front and center in terms of a looming global crisis, it seems many of us sit back and expect the government to take steps to solve the crisis before the problems created by climate change become insurmountable.
On the subject of transportation, the biggest driver of greenhouse gasses (GHG), great strides have occurred in the last 20 years to contain GHG emissions from all vehicles. Technology has done a remarkable job, but at the same time there are more people on the roads. Unfortunately, as alluded to above, a lot of those vehicle trips are short-distance driving, which, in spite of cleaner engines, still puts a considerable amount of GHG into the air. A recent article in a Sierra Club magazine indicated that “short trip” driving creates more GHG than all the trucks moving our goods down the highways. Perhaps rules and regulations need to be put in place that prohibit able-bodied humans from driving when the intended trips are less than two miles long. The use of bicycles and/or walking power would not only curtail emission of GHG, but would create a much healthier populace. Read more