Source to Sea

Water in the Mountains: Colorado Trail, Episode 1
by Mark Downey -- September 10th, 2012

Salida, Colorado.

I boarded a train to the mountains. The steamy delta of the Mississippi River – my home and muse for the past couple months – lies somewhere far to the south and east of me. Now I’m watching the sandstone bluffs and cottonwood ravines of western Colorado drift by my window. There’s a backpack somewhere below me stuffed with food for two weeks; my brain is buzzing with maps.

Since paddling down the Mississippi this summer, I have been entirely seized by water. I see it everywhere now, the River in some form or another; it’s easy to know when you’re living right on it. So bidding farewell to the Mississippi was no simple thing, but I’ve come west to poke the lesson I learned upon hitting the ocean at the mouth of the River, that all waters are connected. And I think more than just water.

My life jacket, dry bag, and paddle have been left with friends, and I’m wearing socks again for the first time in months (thanks, Mom). The journey now follows the southern half of the Colorado Trail, up and over the continental divide (such a wonderful place to contemplate how water might move), and down glacial valleys into the San Juan Mountains, those tremendous visions of water from eons past. The trail ends in Durango, at which point I’ll be re-joining Below the Surface, the EPA and other federal agencies, for a trip down the Anacostia River in D.C. on September 29 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Rivers, water, humans, everywhere.

It’s no secret that hydrology forms and nourishes this mountain landscape, the water cycle, glaciation – every sagebrush cluster, wildflower bloom, and tree-lined gully speaks of water – just as everyone knows that the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico. And we learned all this and all that by the end of high school. But for me there is no book or picture that could ever convey the same understanding I felt floating out of the Mississippi, two months and 2,300+ miles from the source, and into the Sea, the magnificent interweaving. That River, these mountains, have already been explored. But not by me. I’ll stand in their midst and touch them myself, listening to their voices with my own ears. I’m seeking out how deep the connections go.


  1. Tawnee
    Sep 10, 2012

    I’m glad you’re continuing to blog past your Mississippi trip, Mark! Your posts are always so descriptive and poetic. Good luck with your continuing travels.

  2. Ginger
    Sep 15, 2012

    As you touch the mountains, the brush, the pristine waters…be amazed at how God’s fingers formed it all…and drink and breathe deeply of the unfathomableness of it all.

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