Source to Sea

Water in the Mountains: Colorado Trail, Episode 4
by Mark Downey -- November 5th, 2012

You run into hunters up here, elk tags in their pockets, they’ve got big trucks waiting on some Forest Service road, heavy boots and heavy breathing. It was black powder season when I started, now bow season I think, but I still haven’t seen any elk just some moose and a fat porcupine. Do people eat porcupine? Seen a lot of hunters though. I’m hunting too, sometimes, with orange tape on my hat and pack, for raspberries and currants, the last of the season, sometimes for the faintest trickle of water on this high trail a thousand feet above the tree line. I look for bear sign around the berry patches and freeze to watch now and then, am I being watched?



The view from the top of the Elk Creek drainage is stunning. The land drops steeply down an enormous gash into hidden places beneath the dramatic faces of the Grenadier Range, and a little creek tumbles with it, building its strength as it goes, falling with force and apparent certainty into the Pacific watershed. I’ve been clambering along the Continental Divide for about 170 miles at this point. Now here I go following this little trickle down the rocks to the Animas River, the Weminuche Wilderness, the San Juan Mountains, only 70 miles left to Durango, eventually to the sea.


Sometimes it has interested me, where does a River start?  I put a canoe in the Mississippi River where people agree it begins, and by the end I learned they were not entirely correct. I step in the tumbling water here and know I could trace this Elk Creek or any stream to its mouth and find water seeping from a rock, but that’s not an answer is it. The beginning is a myth no matter where you place a GPS waypoint. Same with the end if we get deconstructionist, thinking about the ubiquitous hydrological cycle, about molecules and uncertainty, I know I know.


But it’s here, this is a River. An unknowable collection of atoms, a big wet landscape feature you can step in or see from space, and everything in between. Water has become for me a symbol of unity. Here in the mountains, though, I’ve found that mountains teach the same truths, if I let myself think in geologic time, that one current connects all things. Now watching water trickle out of solid rock, I see the two symbols as one. I touch the wet stone, then my lips, and we’re all in this together.


1 Comment

  1. Virginia
    Nov 5, 2012

    Your second photo captures the life cycle of water wonderfully: mountains pregnant with trickles, a gorgeous lake, and the beautiful cloud formations of water vapor!

©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff