Book Review | Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild

Renowned nature photographer John Fielder's latest coffee table book

Colorado's Yampa River: Free flowing and wild from the Flat tops to the Green john Fielder
Colorado’s Yampa River: Free flowing and wild from the Flat tops to the Green

What do you get when you combine renowned nature photographer John Fielder, author, former river ranger, outfitter and Ph.D. Pat Tierney, and 250 miles of the last major free flowing-river in the seven-state Colorado River basin? A coffee table book that belongs on every river runner and nature lover's bookshelf…

In vivid photos and prose, freshly released “Colorado's Yampa River” takes you on a journey down the entirety of the Yampa River of northwest Colorado, which cascades 250 miles from high in the Rocky Mountains near Steamboat Springs and descends over 6,000 feet from alpine tundra to parched desert. Bisecting local, state, and national parks, and at times enclosed in a 2,500-foot-deep canyon, it morphs from a cold trout stream to a warm water haven for endangered fish, evolving from placid meanders into famous whitewater rapids.

Yampa Canyon. Photo by John Fielder
Yampa Canyon. Photo by John Fielder

“As a photographer and publisher, I engaged the project for several reasons,” says Fielder. “I’m a river rat and had always wondered what what was behind the wall of cottonwoods where the Yampa disappeared south of U.S. Highway 40 from Steamboat Springs to Maybell, Colorado. What a treat…we saw no one else on the river for 125 miles. And it’s always nice to visit the Flat Tops Wilderness; I’d never backpacked into its headwaters before.

“But most of all,” he adds, “I want this river ecosystem preserved. Water does not flow downhill…it flows to money, as Governor John Love said in the 1970s. It’s my hope that this project and book gets inserted into Colorado’s water planning discussions and that diversion of Yampa River water to Colorado’s Front Range never happens.”

Over the past two years, nature photographer Fielder and educator/river rat Patrick Tierney photographed and wrote their way down the entire length of the river from the Yampa's headwaters in the Flat Tops Wilderness at 11,500 feet to its confluence with the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument. Between Fielder's images of tundra wildflowers, eagles and elk, and the tributaries and canyons of the Yampa, and Tierney's discourse about the Yampa's human, natural, and political history, you'll row along with them as they traverse one of the most pristine and untouched waterways left in the contiguous United States.

Claret cup cactus. Photo by John Fielder
Claret cup cactus. Photo by John Fielder

"A goal of writing the book for me was to showcase the fantastic resources,” Tierney says, “and to provide detailed insights into the entire river in order to help protect its flows, wildlife and riparian corridor. Writing it…led to a greater appreciation of what the river provides today and what could be lost if it is not cared for in the future. Hopefully, it also does that for readers of the book.”

Today's Yampa is a delicately balanced bio-physical system that offers sustainable food and water for wildlife and humans alike. Upon closer examination, the Yampa is the result of at least 30 million years of geological processes, 300,000 years of biological evolution, 5,000 years of Native American utilization, and only 200 years of Anglo exploitation. Yet the Yampa and its interconnected resources still function almost as they have for eons — a wonderful anomaly in an otherwise river-enslaved Colorado River basin. But there are proposals to undo this evolutionary masterpiece, all in a matter of ten years, to support unsustainable population growth on the east slope of Colorado.

Flat Tops Wilderness. Photo by John Fielder
Flat Tops Wilderness. Photo by John Fielder

The State of Colorado is currently creating its first statewide water plan to allocate limited water resources to an unlimited list of water users, including municipalities along Colorado's booming Front Range, farms and ranches, and industry led by the exponentially growing oil and gas sector. As of 2015, the first iteration of the plan does not preclude exporting even more water than is already removed by diversion from the Colorado River Basin.

Potential proposals include building billion dollar pipelines to transport the waters of the Yampa and Green rivers to Denver and its neighbors.

You owe it to yourself to both paddle it and get the book so you're never far from its free-flowing spirit.

About the authors: John Fielder has worked tirelessly to promote the protection of Colorado's ranches, open space, and wildlands during his 33-year career as a nature photographer and publisher. His photography has influenced people and legislation, earning him recognition including the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award in 1993 and, in 2011, the Aldo Leopold Foundation's first Achievement Award given to an individual. Over 40 books have been published depicting his Colorado photography. Information about John and his work can be found at www.johnfielder.com.

Patrick Tierney, Ph.D., has been kayaking, rafting, hiking, and skiing in the Yampa Basin for 38 years as a licensed whitewater guide, National Park Service river ranger, nature guide, rafting outfitter, director of the nonprofit Yampa River Awareness Project, teacher, and researcher.

Info: $45; 172 pages; large format hardcover book with 150 scenic, historical, and then & now photographs; www.johnfielder.com

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