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Gateway/ Unaweep & the Colorado River Watershed

The Outdoor Wilderness Lab is located in the heart of the Upper Colorado River Basin, at the confluence of West Creek and the Dolores River. West Creek drains out of the western end of the unique Unaweep Canyon. The canyon gets its uniqueness from the fact that it has “two months”. With a high point in the middle of the canyon forming a divide, water flows both east (into East Creek) and west, right through our campus! Unaweep is the only canyon in the world where this is known to occur!


Once the water from West Creek joins the Dolores River it sets off on a winding, wondrous, and sometimes wild journey through the Colorado Plateau, where it meets first the Colorado River, then the Green River on its way through the deserts of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. As it passes through major geologic features such as Cataract Canyon, Glen Canyon, Escalante- Grand Staircase, and of course the Grand Canyon, it picks up both sediments and stories on its way to the sea in the Gulf of California. When you’re at OWL, you become one of those stories! You’re part of the legacy of the River’s legacy. 


In fact, the choices you make about water, whether at home, in the community, and at OWL have a direct impact on not just your water locally, but the entire Colorado River Watershed as well! How you use water determines if it’s available for other users both across the watershed. For example, if you use water in your sinks and showers inside your house, most of it is collected, cleaned, and returned to the watershed for others to use after you. 


However, if you use water in your lawn and garden, most of it evaporates/ transpires into the atmosphere or absorbs into the ground. That doesn’t mean the water disappears, but it does make it unusable to others who share the watershed with you. For every person in the Colorado River Watershed to have access to clean, freshwater, you need to make smart decisions and conserve this valuable resource! And it’s not just other people with whom you share the watershed- it’s every other plant and animal living here as well!


Fish such as cutthroat, rainbow, cut bow, and brown trout are all found throughout the Dolores/ Colorado River Watersheds. Other native species such as the Colorado Pikeminnow, Bluehead Sucker, Flannelmouth Sucker, Roundtail Chub, Speckled Face, and the Mottled Sculpin are also found throughout the river. Even carp and catfish can roam the waters of the Colorado/ Dolores as well!


Macroinvertebrates and insects such as the fly nymph, stonefly, hippers, and mayflies are all species that call the Gateway area of the Colorado River Watershed home. As we discover in our macroinvertebrate lesson taught on campus, a significant population of each of these indicates a healthy stream system. If human actions such as over-consumption, pollution, or poorly-managed storage of water occur, these populations are immediately affected and a warning sign that we need to make different choices if other species are going to be able to share with us!

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Unaweep Canyon Divide 

From this point, water flows either east or west into the Gunnison or Dolores Rivers

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Dolores River Watershed Map

Colorado River Watershed Map

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