Good Colorado Sunday morning, friends. I hope you enjoy the last few days before the winter holiday season ramps up in earnest.
It hardly seems possible that four years could have elapsed since I was planning a New Year’s roadtrip from my home in Colorado to the misty peninsula south of San Francisco. It’s a long drive across the Southwest, even with two drivers. My copilot had only cheap desert real estate on his mind. A date shake in Palm Springs was on mine.
My one requirement was that we include Yuma, Arizona, on our route, to see where the mighty Colorado River splits and winds into Mexico in its natural channel and to the Imperial Irrigation District of California in a straight concrete canal cut through actual sand dunes. It was surprising to read city park signs noting the old days, when the river not yet controlled by the Laguna, Hoover and Glen Canyon dams was so full that steamships were able to navigate. It was shocking to see fields of lettuce and spinach irrigated with Colorado River water growing snug against the hard desert in January.
This all happened just as the West was entering its second decade of searing drought and lakes Mead and Powell were frighteningly low. Two years later, the Colorado River System was in full-fledged crisis. This week’s cover story, our first collaboration with Jerd Smith of Fresh Water News, dives into the politics and economics that allowed the two largest reservoirs in the U.S. to fall into the danger zone.
The Cover Story
>> Drought, politics and bad planning along the Colorado River
The Colorado River Basin had been in a drought-weary world of hurt since the early 2000s, but, wow, in 2020 did things take a turn for the worse. Suddenly, lakes Powell and Mead were plummeting, hydropower production was slumping, and almost overnight the federal government began ordering massive emergency releases from reservoirs in our neck of the woods, such as Blue Mesa, to prevent them from going dry.
And suddenly the question of the day was: What went wrong?
To answer that question, Fresh Water News began talking to experts inside and outside the system to understand how the nation’s two largest reservoirs nearly went dry.
Even more important now, is whether the army of negotiators working on two rescue plans designed to keep the river flowing now and into a much drier future, can keep it from happening again.
The Colorado Lens
In case you missed it, we’ve curated our own visual feed of reporting to catch you up. Here are a few of our favorite shots of everyday places, people and moments from across Colorado this month.
Flavor of the Week
>> Easing into the season on skinny skis
John Denver once said, “The only real skiers in Colorado are Nordic skiers.” Actually, no he didn’t, that we know of. But he might as well have because this time of year, in a year like this, when the big snows are holding out for actual winter, any truly diehard resort skier awaiting snow not made by machines would do well to follow the way of the Nordic skier and don whatever mishmash of wool-knicker/floppy boot/skinny ski gear they can find and head out into the nearest (safe, low angle, non-avalanche prone) snow-covered woods.
Scoff if you want, but pre-Thanksgiving Nordic skiing is the heart of Colorado skiing. If you don’t believe us, consider these three reasons:
First, Nordic gets you outside in nature, on skis, without requiring much snow or technique beyond that required in hiking (assuming your chosen terrain is flat, you don’t have to herringbone or snowplow and you have a decent sense of balance).
Second, it’s relatively cheap. It’s free in any national forest. At a center with groomed trails it runs somewhere between “donation please” for a pass at the community-run Grand Mesa Nordic center to $50 for a trail pass and rentals at Crested Butte Nordic. (Both are currently open.)
Third, it’s the ultimate accessible retro sport if you want it to be — think wooden boards and three-pin bindings salvaged from the Goodwill, say, in Leadville, and boots, poles, wool knickers, wool sweater and bota bag borrowed from your great-uncle Euclid in Evergreen. And best of all, Nordic gets you primed for Alpine and even backcountry skiing by creating a fitness base that you can build on.
So on this upcoming holiday week, consider skipping the early-season resort skiing for skiing born 5,000 years ago in China that is alive and well anywhere in Colorado there isn’t a bullwheel.
SunLit: Sneak Peek
EXCERPT: Author Randi Samuelson-Brown takes delight in describing her characters’ surroundings, and that joy is on full display in the opening of “Branded Graves,” when brand inspector Emory Cross returns to her family’s embattled Lost Daughter Ranch. But not long after she reunites with her combative father, the two are under fire — literally — from persons unknown, and will soon be embroiled in a range war.
THE SUNLIT INTERVIEW: Although Samuelson-Brown’s books — this is the second volume in her “Dark Range” series — explore issues endemic to the American West, she enjoys peeling away history to reveal the many connections between current issues and those that defined the region’s wilder times. A sense of place is central to her plotlines. And she takes pains to make those places as vivid as possible. Here’s a slice of her Q&A:
SunLit: Which do you enjoy more as you work on a book — writing or editing?
Samuelson-Brown: Editing! I figure that I can always make my writing better. I love writing scenery, and it takes time and a few passes to create word descriptions that convey what I see in my mind’s eye.
Sunday Reading List
A curated list of what you may have missed from The Colorado Sun this week.
🌞 The thing about Proposition HH is that even the people who stood up to back the complicated plan to ease Colorado’s property tax burden had their doubts, Jesse Paul reports. This weekend an almost identical bill — minus relief for commercial property owners and absent help for some special taxing districts — is being debated during a special legislative session. Lawmakers must complete the work today. You can find the results, reported by Jesse and Brian Eason, whenever they land, at coloradosun.com.
🌞 About 80 Venezuelan migrants, most of whom arrived in Denver by bus this year, got themselves up to Carbondale in search of jobs paying more than they were earning in the city. Some have found work, but none of them have housing, Jennifer Brown and Samuel Bernal reported.
🌞 More than 10,500 Colorado kids in grades 7 through 12 dropped out during the 2021-22 school year. Experts and educators told Erica Breunlin they blame the COVID pandemic for damaging students’ connection to their schools.
🌞 A Western Slope coalition is making a play to buy the water rights of a small hydropower plant with a big role in how water moves across Colorado. If the group succeeds, farmers, water providers, anglers and rafters say they could sleep more easily for years into the future. But as Shannon Mullane reports, there are big questions around the deal.
🌞 Today is the first anniversary of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs. Olivia Prentzel caught up with three survivors of the hate-filled attack on the LGBTQ bar who told her they are forever changed, but more empowered than ever.
🌞 Fun fact: In 30 years, movies made by the three major ski film companies — Warren Miller Entertainment, Teton Gravity Research and Matchstick Productions — have featured one woman skier for every 15 men. Parker Yamasaki checked in with the makers of an all-woman ski film, “Advice for Girls,” who are working to change that frustrating narrative.
Thanks for spending another Colorado Sunday with us. As always, we’re grateful for your time and your support. If you observe Black Friday, Nov. 24 will be the day to get a gift membership for a friend at a 20% discount or score some Colorado Sun merch for 50% off. See you here again next week!
— Dana & the whole staff of The Sun