The Yampa River is the wildest and last free flowing river in the Colorado River system. Its story is one of a constant struggle between those who wish to preserve its unique and fragile ecosystem for all to enjoy versus the private interests of a few who wish to exploit its valuable resources for profit.
Because the Yampa River is a free flowing river, without any dams or major diversions, its flow rate changes dramatically from season to season and year to year. Many of the plant and animal species along the river are dependent on this natural cycle.
This series reflects on and documents the Yampa River's rich and diverse history.
Hell's Canyon, Yampa River, Dionosuar National Monument
Hell’s canyon is the site of the Mantle Ranch. Mantle Cave, located on the Mantle Ranch property, is a large natural rock shelter where a significant cache of Fremont artifacts including a feathered headdress, fishing hooks, basketry, and bird figurines were first discovered by the ranch owners and excavated by archeologists in the 1940’s. Today the archeological collection is housed in the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History
Melting spring runoff makes its way to the headwaters of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs. From there it runs for 250 miles until it meets the Green River at Echo Park. 105 miles of the river are protected as it runs through Dinosaur National Monument.
Dobson Fly, Yampa River.
The Dobson Fly flay is’s eggs on the lower walls of the Yampa River. The eggs are the small white patches seen on the dark rock. They are timed to hatch during high water in the spring. The the larval stage of the Dobson Fly is known as a Hellgrammite (AKA Toe-bitters), a prehistoric looking insect that resembles a giant centipede that can grow as long as a finger. The male Dobson Fly has long scary looking mandibles, but it is the females with their shorter and stronger mandibles that can deliver a nasty bite.
Photographer, filmmaker, and Sierra Club director David Bower teamed up with local raft guide Bus Hatch to lobby politicians to save the river and stop the proposed Echo Park Dam project. They took as many lawmakers as they could down the Yampa River to show them what would be forever lost if the dam project were to go forward. Unfortunately, Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge Canyon, and countless others were not spared such 'progress'
Yampa River Sunset
This stretch of the Yampa River was almost damed in the 1950s. Like nearly all of the canyons in the Colorado River Basin this place would have been completely and permanently underwater were it not for the efforts of conservationists.
Whirlpool Canyon, Green River.
After merging with the Yampa River at Echo Park, the Green River enters Whirlpool Canyon. In many ways the Green and Yampa offers a tale of two rivers one wild, one dammed. Before the Green River was dammed at Flaming Gorge, it had very similar flow and discharge rates as the Yampa. Today, scientists are able to study the differences in the ecosystems of a free flowing river, a dammed river, and a hybrid of the two.
Salt Cedar (AKA Tamarisk).
Salt Cedar produces feathery purple flowers and can been seen all along the Yampa River and its tributaries. In the 1800's the federal government allowed for the introduction of Salt Cedar from Europe in an effort to reduce river bank erosion. The plant quickly took hold and spread throughout the west. Salt Cedar consumes vast quantities of water, draining desert streams and ponds, leaving in place salty dry basins. Salt Cedar is now considered an invasive plant by the USDA. It has been dubbed "the worst weed". Millions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate the plant. In 2006 and 2007 the Tamarisk Beetle was introduced into Dinosaur National Monument in an effort to reduce Salt Cedar populations.
Cottonwood Tree on the Yampa River.
Cottonwoods are a common sight along the banks of the Yampa River. Many bird species rely on the shade and elevated perspective provided by these magnificent trees. The annual snowmelt flood cycle on the Yampa River erodes, transports and deposits sediment down its banks. Native plant and animal species have adapted to and depend on this eons-old natural cycle. Cottonwood trees release their seeds during peak flows in Spring. Seedlings prefer to take root in flood deposited cobble bars. Further downstream, past the regulated Green River (damed at Flaming Gorge), flood deposits are decreasing as are young and middle aged cottonwoods.