The 241-mile Dolores River is one of the most prized rivers in the American West. El rio de Nuestra de Dolores, the lady of the river of sorrow, is said to have been named by the Spanish explorer Juan Maria Antonio Rivera in 1765.
The river used to run at an average of 1,200 cubic feet per second, raging every spring and flowing throughout summers. But with decades of diversions leading to a dam built in 1995, today the river sometimes comes to a standstill.
“It is the subject of much controversy, political and environmental debate, and has many questioning the current system under which the river is managed.
“Water is such a commodity in the West,” said river runner and New Mexico school teacher Kjirsten Territ. “Releasing it for recreational purposes seems like a waste to a lot of people, which is why it’s really important to come and do this when it runs, so they know the use for recreation is at least as important as for agricultural purposes.”
Often, depending on water levels, significant time can go by without a release from McPhee Reservoir, the body of water created by the dam.
“It’s a two-week window,” said Ryan Douglas, a law student from Colorado. “If you don’t come down and see it you might not see it for another five or 10 years.”
So it’s with a watchful eye that river runners patiently wait.
“I will drop whatever I have going on to come and do,” Douglas said.
With short notice, governing agencies might open the flood gates for a few days, and abruptly close them off. So when this rivers runs, you better be ready.