Source-to-sea river journeys and their politics of scale and knowledge production: Examining Colorado River expeditions from the United States through Mexico

Adrianne C. Kroepsch
Division of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, US; akroepsch@mines.edu

Caleb Ring
Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, US; calebmring@gmail.com

Joanna Clark
Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, US; jojoc3563@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: In this article we examine an increasingly popular form of water activism – the source-to-sea river journey and its associated narrative – in order to understand its proliferation and implications for water discourse. We focus on source-to-sea journeys on the Colorado River because of the robust dataset that this river provides. On the Colorado, we find that, in addition to producing a compelling adventure tale, the source-to-sea journey has evolved to become an unofficial methodology for assessing the cumulative environmental impacts of human development on the river. This bootstrapped methodology challenges the epistemological status quo in the Colorado River Basin by establishing an alternative way of knowing the river and a new type of river expert. It does this by repositioning the observational scale at which the river is known: downscaling the resolution of environmental knowledge production to the scale of the individual body, while also upscaling it in extent to the scale of the full river basin. We discuss the implications of these journeys and narratives for water discourse, with an emphasis on what they render visible and what they leave invisible.

KEYWORDS: Knowledge production, scale, narrative, activism, Colorado River