Rio Grande, Colorado, USA


Artist, Mark Penner-Howell, with photography by Kae Penner-Howell, uses a piece of cotton canvas in the headwaters of the Rio Grande near Creede, Colorado.

The Rio Grande begins as alpine run-off high in the San Juan mountains of Southern Colorado. For hundreds of miles this clear and cold stream wanders through national forests and high desert grasslands. Numerous tributaries in the mountain high country quickly add to the river’s strength. Over millions of years the Rio Grande has carved tremendous, rugged canyons through the heart of the American west. The lower sections of the river find it silt-laden and slowly winding its way to the ocean, nearly 3034 km from it’s origin.
The Rio Grande provides sustenance and respite to migrating birds, desert wildlife, and human populations alike. It remains largely unused by commercial water traffic because it is too shallow.
Recently, growing populations in the region have put formidable pressure on this life resource. Effluent waste from human communities and pesticides from farm run-off compromise the river’s health. In the stretches below El Paso Texas, more water is drawn from the river for human use than is sustainable for the life of river.
The origins of this Rio Grande, it’s course over land and throughout history, and the perils it faces in the industrialized present are well documented and parallel the story of many great rivers. What makes this river special to me is the time I have spent along it’s riparian banks, above it on cliffs, beside it in a mountain cabin. It’s magnetism to both native wildlife and the people of the region stand in stark contrast to the severe beauty and harsh demands of the desert it flows through. I am fascinated with these things and, most of all, the ineffable lure of water flowing over rocks.