Photo book shows ‘Where the Colorado River is Born’

Jessica Cabe
The spring melt near Mount Sopris and the Elk Mountains are pictured here as part of Garrett Fisher's photo book
Garrett Fisher |

Garrett Fisher can remember one defining moment in January 2014 when the idea came for his latest photo book, “Where the Colorado River is Born.”

“We got 28 inches of snow in Breckenridge,” Fisher said. “I had become aware of the water rights, and that particular property I was renting did not have the water rights.”

A Great Lakes native from Buffalo, New York, the concept of water scarcity did not cross Fisher’s mind until moving to Colorado, where until 2009 it was illegal for almost anyone to collect rain water or snow for personal recycling purposes. Two bills were introduced in 2009 that allow for some exceptions, but to this day many Colorado residents would be breaking the law to catch rain water or keep the snow they shovel from their driveways.

At the same time, water from the Colorado River feeds into large metropolitan areas like Denver and Phoenix, spreading our biggest source of water thin.

This issue of water scarcity is not a new one, but Fisher thought with show, not tell, more people whose water supply comes from the Colorado River would begin to understand that water is not a given.

“I try to avoid telling people what to do because I think that doesn’t work,” he said. “My goal was to show people exactly where the water came from. I want to show people where the snow falls and where it goes.”

He said once people see something like that, it becomes real and relatable.

Fisher’s book contains 95 photos of the Upper Colorado, Roaring Fork, Blue, Gunnison, Eagle, Yampa and Uncompaghre river basins as well as the mountain ranges that feed them. He took these photos from his Piper PA-11 Cup Special, what he describes as the Model T of airplanes for their nostalgia factor.

“They were the first personal airplanes, or the first planes someone would buy to fly around and have fun,” he said. “It’s good for what I do. It flies slow, and it climbs aggressively. Also, the visibility is good as far as the plane parts being out of the way.”

For all these advantages, he trades comfort. Fisher took the photos that appear in “Where the Colorado River is Born” from March to June of 2014. Flying above mountains, hanging out the door of the plane with his camera, he wouldn’t have minded a heater.

Fisher said his favorite memory of photographing the river was his time flying above the Roaring Fork Valley.

“All of a sudden I got to 8,500 feet over Basalt,” he said. “I had the door open, and I was like, ‘It’s like summertime. I’m not freezing.’ And I didn’t have to worry about crashing into anything. I had forgotten how intense the flying was that I had gotten myself into. It required constant mental agility. But I cruised all over the valley, back and forth a few times, and then landed in Glenwood.”

Fisher said his book has a message, but he also wanted it to simply have aesthetic value as a coffee table book.

“If the photo’s not pretty, it doesn’t make it in,” he said.

But he hopes seeing this whole fascinating process — from snow falling on a mountain to the spring melt that takes the snow to the river — will open eyes about water in the West.

“I think the book speaks for itself,” he said. “I just want to show it and let people draw their own conclusions. But everyone’s going to care if their water runs out.”

“Where the Colorado River is Born” is available for purchase on Amazon, Fisher’s website and at Explore Booksellers in Aspen.

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