Evolution of a river

I live in the state of Colorado, but on the eastern side of the Continental Divide — and thus on the wrong side of the mountains from the storied river that bears the state’s name.

The Colorado River arises on the western slope of the Rockies and wends its way south and west through five states and Mexico before trickling into the Gulf of California. It is one of the world’s most famous rivers; its deep canyons facilitated the early explorations of the Southwest, and its waters are fought over by millions living in desert landscapes.

In late October I spent a couple of days tracking the ancient history of the Colorado with some of the region’s top geologists. They are working to unravel the story of when and how river drainages linked up to form the mighty Colorado as we know it today. Along the way I explore a bit of the controversy over how long ago the river carved the Grand Canyon; surprisingly for such an iconic landscape, the age of the Grand Canyon’s formation remains something of a debate.

My piece appears in the January 25 issue of Science News, which has moved many of its features behind a paywall. Subscribers can read it here; others who are interested can email me for a copy.