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The Colorado River bursts out of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and attempts to rumble its way south to the Gulf of California as it had made a habit of in the past ten billion years or so. After struggling through about fifty-seven dams knocked up by humans or beavers (or both) and through the Grand Canyon, it comes within 60 miles of the Gulf and turns west and evaporates 200 feet below sea level in the Salton Sea.
Actually, it doesn't. The river turns west trying to reach the Pacific Ocean, but fails after running into Hollywood and Los Angeles, California, which drink up the entire river in the name of thirst. Mexico, pursuant to a treaty made when the United States took their lands in Arizona and California, has tried to abduct the river on several occasions. The last time they did so was in 1983. Ever since the U.S. and Mexico have kept arguing over who should keep the river.
It's the longest stream in the USA. By golly, it's true. Because although the Mississippi River is longer, the Mississippi is a river. And the Colorado is a stream. Confusing, huh? But Bureau of Reclamation and Southern Californians will agree that the Colorado is a stream, not a river. It's just too puny for their needs.
The Colorado is 1,663 miles long. It is entirely in the USA, though old timers claim that it used to reach into Mexico but was only 1,450 miles long. Strange, huh? How could a river extend to another country and be shorter?? Well, that's a paradox. Whatever. Let's move on.
After rising out of a little lake on the lip of the Rocky Mountains at the town of La Poudre, a lake that appears to be in danger of falling off the eastern side of the mountains at any instant, the Colorado encounters the damn Grand Ditch which sends its water to Denver, then damn Glen Canyon Dam which was built in 1945 purely to provide a giant solar evaporation puddle.
In some years, the Colorado just dies here, hisses into steam, and goes to heaven. Then it goes into the Grand Canyon, where it becomes a gigantic scary toll road for about 500,000 tourists each year who just can't stand watching the river from the South Rim. A very big scary road, with 20 foot tall bumps and 20 foot deep potholes and wrecked cars everywhere, with no DMV to clean it up. Ever. Sometimes the wrecks form large jams which break up once in a while and wash downstream. It's a spectacular sight and it is highly recommended you see it at least twice in your lifetime, 'cause you'll take it for granted the first time and only remember your camera during the second.
The river loops south into Arizona and through the Bridge Canyon Dam which was finally finished in early 2011 after years of protest and eco-terrorism by the Sierra Club Then it enters Lake Mead, the second giant evaporation facility formed by the Hoover Dam. (Oh, by the way, Mead also is a salt factory, but this is a confidential fact from the US government - shh!) Then the Colorado loops through Vegas, and straight through The Venetian. No wonder there are more than 300 fatalities on the Venetian's "canal" each year.
Swooping towards California the river turns west about a mile above the US-Mexico border and into the Salton Sea, another giant evaporation pool. It's so weak by now that it can fit into a damn little concrete canal. But it manages to cut across the desert to near L.A. and into a small lake near San Bernardino. The lower 90 miles of the Colorado are called the Santa Ana River, which is just an attempt by the U.S. government to convince Mexico that the Colorado River no longer exists.
In medieval times some Spanish tourists sidled up to the Colorado River in their luxurious sailing yachts. I mean, they were really luxurious. They were big, and tall and grand, and the only problems they had were scurvy, rats, starvation, dehydration, and being stuck for months at sea because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction and the waves were not behaving and their last compass was broken and the Panama Canal was still under construction and etcetera.
A bit later, some of the Spanish decided to go over land instead. So they traveled across the desert in their state of the art covered wagons, evading shootings, avoiding bar fights/brawls and lodging only in the nicer looking brothels in the small Old West towns they encountered. This was a mistake because they thought that a few pints of water a day per person was enough to get them across the desert.
Their Native American tour guides led them to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and they thought that the Colorado River was just 6 feet wide and the canyon a tad over 200 feet deep. But by then they were dying of dehydration and starvation, and headed back to Madrid as soon as they could. They claimed that they discovered the Grand Canyon and sued the Indian guides for not taking them to all you can eat buffets every night, and combined with gold that the Spanish king gave them, they became richer than Bill Gates and retired in comfort. Oh, and they brought along a nice little vial of smallpox, which they opened. Go figure.
edit Powell Expedition
Sometime after the Civil War, a man called John. W. Powell decided that he had to be the first to run the Colorado River, so people would be flocking around him asking for his autograph for the rest of his life. He put together a team of 165 men and set off from Wyoming in seventeen wooden rowboats. They weren't on the Colorado yet, but were on the Green River, even naughtier than the Colorado. By the time they got to the Colorado, they had only three boats left, and fifty-three people had drowned, and 75 had deserted, 22 had been killed by Indians, and five went into a local store and never came out again.
Powell never actually sailed on the Colorado because right below the Green's confluence with the Colorado there was a large waterfall about 50 feet high, and he ordered his ten remaining men to pull the boats to a nearby beach, which had a snack bar but no one around. After they stole some beers and had a good drink, and finally became sober about a day later, they found that one of their boats had been washed down the waterfall and destroyed, and another had been stolen by Indians who were happily rowing it up the Colorado. Great. So they hiked and dragged the one remaining boat all the way down the river to St. Thomas, Nevada which was what the Mormons called Las Vegas before the Gringos took over. It was a rather nice town and didn't have any sleazy bars or nightclubs, which disappointed the men.
But John wasn't satisfied, and the next summer he took a long break and came to the Colorado River where they were already running tours in large rubber rafts. He signed up for one, paid $2,000 (about $320,000 in today's money) (check conversion rates for better accuracy) (actually $320,015.34 right this moment) and was satisfied.
edit The Mormons
The Mormons actually came before Powell because they were ordered to by Brigham Young, who threatened to take all the wives of each man except for one away if they didn't comply. So not wanting to give up their love life, about 60,000 Mormons headed south from Salt Lake City. That was probably in 1850, although some stoutly claim it was 1949. (Shut up already!)
The first town they built was St. Thomas, Nevada as mentioned earlier and they got it up to about 25,000 people before they realized that the Colorado and the Virgin River were washing away their stocks of pesticides and fertilizer almost annually. So they took the virginity of the Virgin River by plugging it with a big dam which broke the following year when the river had her period, almost destroying St. Thomas.
Right after that, Powell stopped by and was disappointed because all the bars and nightclubs were on the waterfront and had been destroyed in the flood leading him to believe that it was a "clean and cultured" town. Even when the dam was standing the Colorado did some heavy damage. So they decided to build the first incarnation of Hoover Dam except they called it "Boulder Dam".
Choosing a site called Black Canyon because it's so dark, they found a great big beaver dam already blocking up the river. So they destroyed it so as not to maul their honor and built a dam of their own. They used purely red bricks and mortar and built a 200 foot tall dam using no more sophisticated equipment than tractor beams. They regarded it every day with admiration until one day the Colorado had a freshet and the water backed up above the dam covering St. Thomas and all the fields around it. Then the dam broke and sent everything rushing down to Mexico. Yes, the Mexicans discovered a lot of strange debris which they attributed to extraterrestrials, starting an annoying chain of UFO myths.
After the lake drained in 1924 St. Thomas was quickly repopulated by Gringos and Chinese and was soon renamed Las Vegas. Heaven knows why they used a very Mexican name when there were only 15 Mexicans in the city (out of a total population of 95), 10 in jail for illegal immigration, and four who were were deported to Baja the next year, and one went on to become mayor. Hmmm… maybe that's why.
edit The Dams
In the 1900s Southern California got really worked up because the Colorado River was just a few hundred miles away, and they were tired of getting water from Northern California, Alaska and the very very salty Pacific Ocean. Actually the old timers were right and back then the Colorado did flow to Mexico. But then California begged the U.S. government to start a construction project because they were in the middle of the Great Depression and there were 12,763,032 unemployed people out of 14,349,401 people in the state.
So Congress passed the Colorado River Redirection Act of 1929, which involved digging a new valley for the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona to San Bernardino, California and giving jobs to about 12,763,031 of the 12,763,032 unemployed people. That last one became the predecessor of all the homeless in California today. Stupid government. Be nice.
In 1960 the Bureau of Reproduction decided to have revenge against the Sierra Club who led by teenage half-brothers John Muir and David Brower dissed every single darn project they did, whether in Utah, or Washington, or India. In fact, they destroyed Echo Park Dam on the Green River using a nuclear missile or two, and failed to mention the radiation poisoning that still lingers in eastern Utah.
So the Bureau took a very large amount of concrete and used it to create a very large device that would take the virginity of the Colorado River, which the Sierra Club desperately loves, once and for all. They called it the Glen Canyon Dam but it was actually a huge dildo which they inserted into the Colorado and intend to leave it there for eternity. Even though the Monkey Wrench Gang has frequently tried to remove it, with no results at all.
edit U.S. and Mexico War
In 1947 the United States closed the gates on the Colorado sending it through its new valley to San Bernardino, California and about 700,000 confused Mexican farmers stood at the border watching as the Colorado shrank to a trickle and disappeared. In a few months the entire vast agricultural region south of Mexicali had turned into the new Flipping Expanse and Definition of Complete Worthlessness. Good job, USA. You just moved an entire 5000 square mile area to another country! Stupid idea, though.
Two years later Mexico secretly declared war against the United States and passed a law, and this is what the law said when translated to English: "Gringos suck! They took away our sexiest river! Off with their jobs! Attack the border! AAAATTTTAAACCCKKK!!!!!" So starting the next year over a million Mexicans run up to the border each year with clubs and guns on December 16 shouting "VIVA LA MEXICO! DÉNOS EL RIO COLORADO!!" and overrun the pussy border security, tear down the chain link fences along the California and Arizona border and "vanish" into the United States. Then the USA spends a billion dollars putting the fence back up and sending the scarred-for-life border guards to rehab, not realizing that this keeps the illegals more in than out.
Then in 1983, Mexico convinced the Soviet Union to let them "experiment" with some of their new cloud seeding technology in joint cooperation with the Sierra Club. They sent all the rockets they had purchased from the Soviets zooming across the border and it happened to be a cloudy spring in the Rocky Mountains. This caused about 72 inches of rain (on the first day) which turned the mild mannered Colorado into an angry stampede nearly breaking Glen Canyon Dam. At the same time 300,000 Mexicalians rushed across the border to break the gates on the Colorado River, sending (too much of) it crashing into Mexico. Whatever happened next, we won't say.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union on Y2K, rumors persist that Mexico and the Sierra Club are plotting another invasion to recapture the mighty and beautiful Colorado River.
- ↑ It was pretty messy afterwards.
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