Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Continental Divide beautiful drive


July 10, 2019

I took advantage of a long holiday weekend to travel up to the Continental Divide, where I camped and explored some of the highest points in Colorado.

“Civilization” came to me through the radio, particularly National Public Radio.

Like New Mexico, Colorado has NPR-member public radio stations all over the state, so I was never far from reception.

I would be bordering on insanity if I had been listening all the time, but there was a lot of drive time between here and the Divide, so I tuned in — in between stops at some of the most spectacular landscape in North America.

I could have traveled the Divide as it crosses through New Mexico — between Dulce and Chama to the north and by Silver City and Lordsburg before exiting through the southwestern Bootheel to the south — but hey, it’s summer, and the mountains to the north were sure to be much cooler.

So as I headed north, there was news and talk surrounding Trump’s military-style celebration in the nation’s capital; Nike’s decision to nix an ad campaign that would have included the original 13-star (for the colonies turned states) American flag; and a bunch of the other deep divides our nation is facing. So many divides …

Perhaps at this point you’re expecting me to connect my observations along the Continental Divide to some of those aforementioned deep national divides. But I’m not going to do that. To compare those small standing pools of water and snowpack at the tip-top of the Divide to the few voters left who haven’t decided yet whether they’ll flow to the “left” coast or the “right” gulf would sound so contrived that it’s not even worth the sentence I just gave it.

So, as I did from time to time on my journey, I’ll turn off the radio and tune in to other thoughts.

This is where so much of our lives start.

On my trip I came to the headwaters of rivers that mean so much to so many. The San Juan and Rio Grande rivers are born in southern Colorado; the Arkansas River, a little to the north. Then there’s the Colorado River, which feeds a parched Southwest.

All the rivers and creeks I saw had a strong, almost overflowing stream to them; there’s a lot of mountain runoff this year.

The Arkansas’ headwaters are sort of a special spot for me. My brother Jim and I came up here a few years ago, so it wasn’t new driving through Leadville, an old silver mining town on the headwaters, and it wasn’t the first time I wondered what silver mining along the river might do to the quality of the water downstream.

Since I’m originally from Arkansas, where the river is a mile wide in spots, this doesn’t look like the waterway I grew up on. Here it’s a pristine Rocky Mountain stream, growing into powerful rapids before supplying the first of many manmade reservoirs in its route to the Mississippi River. It flows across Colorado, through Pueblo and into the Great Plains, and meanders its way into Kansas and Oklahoma before slicing through in Arkansas as a deep, muddy and wide river, with some of the biggest catfish you’ve ever seen.

That’s the Arkansas River I know. Here in Colorado, it enjoys the purity of its youth. Or at least that’s how it appears.

The Continental Divide is a hydrological divide that, in Colorado, is especially spectacular because it rides atop some off the highest peaks in North America.

If water is life, here’s where it begins its journey.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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