SI Vault
Richard Phelan
June 07, 1982
In October 1899 a modest, almost shabby little expedition—six men, three row-boats and a kitten—set out to explore and survey the 350-mile passage of the Rio Grande through the canyons of the Big Bend and beyond. One wall of each canyon is Texas; the other, Mexico. It was primitive, lawless country. The men had a hard trip and came out detesting each other. But they did make it, which no earlier exploring party had done, and accomplished something slightly unusual that history has overlooked.
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June 07, 1982

The Outline Of The U.s. Was Finished After A Risky Run On The Rio Grande

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Today a few young people go the whole 350 miles, as Hill did. With lightweight equipment and the water level sufficiently high, they make it in much less time. But for them, running the canyons is not so much a wilderness experience as a test, an athletic event.

You can also travel a stretch of the river in something close to case, pausing at the best swimming holes, stopping for the night at 3 p.m. if you come to an irresistible campsite. The Rio Grande, whose current moves at two or three miles per hour, will do more of the work for you if you hurry less. There may be an occasional piece of litter in the form of a Spam can or a wrecked canoe, but you can sometimes float for hours and see no sign that anyone has ever been there before you.

With the price of gasoline what it is. public use of the lower canyon region of Big Bend National Park has fallen off It is removed from anywhere—about 600 miles from Houston, 400 from San Antonio. And it is one of the biggest, and least visited, of all our 48 national parks. The number of visitors has declined by one-half since 1976, although the length of the visits has increased. So while the campsites are still well used, there's less traffic on the river than there used to be. Geologically, the canyons keep aging, of course-the river cuts deeper, the rocks erode. But ecologically, so to speak, the canyons are shifting ever so slightly back in time, back toward what they were in 1899 when Hill's intrepid and ill-assorted party ventured forth.

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Prentice Hill 1 0 0
Rio Grande 16 0 0
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United States 8021 0 232