The Eagle River
Snowstorm on Colorado’s Eagle River

Since moving to Eagle County, Colorado twelve years ago, we have always lived within a few yards of the Eagle River or one of its tributaries. The River’s presence is a part of daily life. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of intimacy of place and love exploring that concept with photography. For several years I’ve been documenting various aspects of the Eagle River’s riparian zone.

The Eagle River
American Dipper on the Eagle River

Recently I’ve embarked on a personal project, entitled Confluences: The Eagle River, that documents the Eagle’s more than 40 tributaries along its 77 mile course from headwaters to confluence with the Colorado River. A major tributary of the Upper Colorado River, the Eagle’s source begins at 10,424 foot Tennessee Pass on the Great Divide in Colorado’s White River National Forest.

The Eagle River
Headwaters: East Fork of the Eagle River

Below the pass, in a valley named Pando, the straightened Eagle travels through the now abandoned Camp Hale. Here troops of the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained to ski and climb in some of the harshest conditions in preparation for alpine combat during World War II. Veterans of the 10th who were at Camp Hale include National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) founder Paul Petzoldt and environmental superhero and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club David Brower.

The Eagle River
Bird’s-eye View of Camp Hale – Aerial Support Thanks to Lighthawk

During construction of Camp Hale, the Army Corps of Engineers straightened a 3 mile stretch of the Eagle and drained its surrounding wetlands. Recently, the National Forest Foundation has partnered with the Eagle River Watershed Council and other community stakeholders to restore  the watershed and riparian zone of the Upper Eagle River including invasive weed eradication and removal.

From its headwaters, the Eagle River travels west through deep canyons explored by John C. Fremont during his western expeditions in the early 1840s. The first town the Eagle travels through is the historic mining town of Red Cliff.

The Eagle River
Red Cliff and The Eagle River

This ancient watershed passes through the now abandoned Eagle Mine in an area called Belden Canyon that once produced huge payloads of minerals including gold, silver, copper and zinc from 1879-1984.

The Eagle River
The Eagle River and The Eagle Mine

Further west, in a spot locals call Dowd Junction, the Eagle partners with the confluence of Gore Creek, a tributary that courses through the Vail Valley. After departing Dowd Junction, the river continues west through the Eagle River Valley, growing stronger with the help of five tributaries in Avon, including Beaver Creek.

The Eagle River
Bird’s-eye View of Edwards, Colorado – Aerial Support Thanks to Lighthawk

Of all the towns through which the Eagle travels, none feeds its strength more than the unincorporated town of Edwards, where nine of its tributaries flow on both side of the valley with names echoing the valley’s past, including McCoy Creek, Beard Creek and Squaw Creek.

The Eagle River
Confluence of The Eagle River and the Upper Colorado River

At its confluence, the Eagle River joins forces with the Upper Colorado River in Dotsero near the start of the Ute Trail. A hundred and fifty years ago, this section of the Colorado River was called the Bunkara River and, for a short period, was used as a hunting ground boundary for the Utes dictated by the October 7, 1863 Treaty with the Utah – Tabeguache Band signed by Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgre Utes during the dark times of westward expansion.

Click here to learn more about Confluences: The Eagle River and to get involved with the project.

To see more of Steven’s work with Seattle Backpackers Magazine, check out his articles here.

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