Javier Gallegos traveled from northern New Mexico to El Paso, Texas documenting the ecological impacts of the drying Rio Grande, but also capturing the ways that humans connect with this artery of life

The Rio Grande is a river in crisis. The third-longest river in the United States, this pulse of life stretches from its headwaters, nestled in the San Juan Range of the Colorado Rockies, to the Gulf of Mexico. It has shaped the landscape ecologically, economically, and culturally. But centuries of mismanagement and living outside of the river’s means has left dwindling flows and the river dries more frequently and for longer stretches seemingly every year. This summer, WildEarth Guardians wanted to capture some of the ecological impacts of the drying of the Rio Grande. But we also wanted to capture the ways that humans connect with this artery of life and, perhaps more importantly, the loss experienced when those connections are severed.

To accomplish this we hired Javier Gallegos, a journalism student from New Mexico State University, and tasked him with traveling throughout the Upper Rio Grande Basin, from northern New Mexico through the state, to El Paso, Texas. Below Javier has compiled a photo essay with some of his favorite photos from his summer travels that help illustrate how much we have to lose by not protecting this vital waterway. Take a look at the photos below and then use your voice to stand up for a Living Rio. 

Chiflo Trail’s steep terrain and loose rock took about 45 minutes to hike and ended right by the river. It was the most secluded place along the Rio Grande we traveled to as the high walls and meandering river meant we saw no one else in the two hours we were down there. July 20, 2021.

The Big Arsenic Trail presented perhaps the highest visibility sight on the trip as we could see for miles in the direction of the river. Located within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the bubbling rapids below bounced off the canyon walls, amplifying the sound as we traversed down. July 20, 2021.

Clouds covered and diffused sunlight during our visit to the Rio Grande Gorge. There were well over a hundred people between the trails, the bridge, and the rest area. Locals and foreigners alike marveled at the beauty of the views. July 19, 2021.

Blue Dot Trial in White Rock was difficult to traverse during the July heat, but the views made it well worth it. A few other hikers crossed our path and told us of a waterfall nearby, which unfortunately alluded us. July 18, 2021.

A blue heron eats at Siphon/Trailhead Beach in Corrales. This is one of the places we visited multiple times. There were families and couples here even into the fall. The shore provides soft sand to lay out beach towels for swimming in the shallow waters of the river. August 12, 2021.

Our Rio Grande Campaigner’s dog Mardy, enjoys the view at Pueblo Montaño Park in Albuquerque after swimming in the river. She brings her to this park regularly as Mardy loves swimming and walking the easy trail where many other people and their pets alike spend their time. August 12, 2021.

The Rio Grande is clay-red near the man-made Tingley Beach in Albuquerque during mid summer. It was the only time I’ve seen a river this color before or since. July 17, 2021

The river access near the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque has a meandering path as the river’s low flow revealed wet patches of sand. We saw tracks of various birds and wildlife in the drying sand, highlighting the medley of life the river supports. June 15, 2021.

A young woman sits in the river while her friends prepare to fish at Riverside Park in Los Lunas. They said they all hang out at the park regularly because it has easy river access and gives them a place to fish and gather on a whim. June 14, 2021

A small, whiptail lizard found along the trail that borders the river in Socorro, New Mexico. Over half of the vertebrate species known to occur throughout New Mexico use aquatic or riparian habitats at some point in their life cycle. June 16, 2021

A train passed by moments after taking this picture at the San Marcial Railroad Bridge. Located on the Armendaris Ranch, the stretch of the Rio Grande this bridge crosses over frequently dries. June 16, 2021.

The San Acacia Diversion dam diverts water for irrigation in the middle Rio Grande valley. Unfortunately, this dam also serves as a barrier that prevents imperiled fish from migrating freely up river when flows recede. June 14, 2021.

A man sits reading right along the waterfront at Elephant Butte Reservoir while he waits for the bell to ring alerting of a caught fish. There were still hundreds of people recreating at the reservoir during the early fall despite the increasingly common low-temperature-days. September 18, 2021.

Las Cruces residents celebrate Independence Day with fireworks all along the riverbank at La Llorona Park. It’s a popular area throughout summer when water flows through the river again and families swim near-daily. Holidays are no exception. July 4, 2021

Vinton Bridge in Vinton, Texas, hosts many families looking to swim and gather during the summer. There were a few fathers and grandfathers fishing while their children were swimming downstream when I was there. July 2, 2021.

A mother waits for her daughter to join the rest of the family below the levee and onto the trail. Mary Frances Keisling Park in west El Paso is one the best places to see the Rio Grande in the city because of its paved sidewalks that hug the river for over a mile, in addition to its clear views of the Franklin Mountains. August 5, 2021.

The Playa Lateral Canal in the Rio Bosque Wetland Park in Socorro, Texas, is the closest you can get to the river as the border wall prevents access to it. The Rio Grande is directly on the other side of the wall. August 4, 2021.

TAKE ACTION! Tell your members of Congress to protect a living Rio Grande.

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