There’s always a good excuse for a road trip.
Especially one so highly designed and planned and mapped — well — until that critical moment when you realize that all of the trip design and planning and mapping had just gone straight out the window. That moment when all four wheels of your modified four-wheel drive are spinning relentlessly in 18 inches of the stickiest, clay-heavy, saturated and stringy desert caliche mud you have ever encountered. Both axles high centered, no tow rope or winch (or anything to attach them too even if you did have them), and a helicopter flight into the most amazing landscape in America mere hours away. As Yvon Chouinard likes to quip — “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”
I ended up in this predicament through a wild series of events — starting with our listing of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon as America’s Most Endangered River of 2015. The production team on the CNN Original Series show, The Wonder List with Bill Weir, caught wind of our Most Endangered Rivers listing and the array of issues surrounding the Colorado Basin from source to sea. They were interested in featuring the Colorado River as the US episode of the wildly popular international travelogue. As they investigated the concept, they reached out to us about what kind of storyline we could put together. After months of phone calls, dozens of emails, shot locations and interview candidates vetted, we all met at Devils Thumb Ranch near the headwaters of the Colorado River and began our two-week trek across the southwest, exploring aspects of a river system that supports more than 35 million people and is in dire need of some care and attention.
We experienced nearly every mode of transportation — certainly riding in cars and pulling a trailer filled with camera gear, but we also traveled by raft, by helicopter, by mountain bike, and on foot. No drones were used, but so many shots are simply epic, and every location and nearly every character proved to strengthen the show. Add in the savvy narration by host Bill Weir, recalling how his late father introduced him to the outdoors and what one special mountain means to him, and you have the formula for an extremely thoughtful, compelling, and sweet show that will both thrill and comfort the viewer — and hopefully inspire some action in defense of the Colorado River and an entire region of the country depending on its health.
After 5 hours of mucky digging and building ramps of sticks and brush under the wheels, British photographer Julian Wakefield and I were back on the road to civilization. As we flew into the Grand Canyon, the relief of being able to complete this expedition, and experience everything that the Colorado River provides for so many, began to wash over us.
The road trip was incredible — the show is terrific. I hope you enjoy it.
Watch the Colorado River episode of The Wonder List with Bill Weir — Sunday, April 3 at 10pm Eastern on CNN, part of CNN’s Original Series.