Experience the entire Dolores River

The universe is infinite, and I have a lot of places to go. Being outdoors, everywhere is infinite because the light and the weather are always different. ‒ John Fielder

Public lands advocate and renowned photographer John Fielder will share stories and images from his 2017 run of the Dolores River at the Salida SteamPlant Friday, April 13. Proceeds from the event will benefit Friends of Browns Canyon.

Fielder began championing public lands about a third of the way through his photography career, which followed a brief stint as a department store executive. “Once I’d discovered so many sublime public lands, one can’t help but develop a passion for making sure they get protected just for moral reasons. For me, 4 billion years of evolution of life on earth is pretty special.”

He’s been rafting the Dolores since the late ’80s, a time when global warming had less impact, and he was able to run the river every year until recently. His 2017 run was the first time Fielder had rafted the river in six years due to low water flow attributed to shrinking snowpack.

“It is probably the single greatest tragedy for one river in the American West. … It has a fraction of the water in it that would normally flow through it, effectively emasculating any chance for its ecosystem to have any integrity. For not even fish ‒ the most basic form of life ‒ to flow into a river, to be able to exist due to low flows, is tragic.”

Regarding the three friends who joined him on the Dolores last year, Fielder said he’s always looking for people he endearingly refers to as “suckers” ‒ traveling companions who can do the work loading and unloading the boat and who will “hike with me into the side canyons, mix the margaritas and get me out of trouble.” He said the latter was inevitable on this trip, which had the potential for losing oars, flipping the raft and wrapping the boat on rocks. “It was something to take seriously; there are three passages on the river that I’d not done since ’93 and I knew they’d be different.”

From that epic adventure, Fielder will tell stories of “death, dismemberment and destruction” during the SteamPlant presentation.

As far as his photography gear, these days Fielder travels with a high quality point and shoot in his day bag for quick access to shots from the boat, where he said he often gets his most outstanding photos. His SLR goes into a large dry bag in a pack and doesn’t get pulled out except for sunrise and sunset while camping on the river.

His favorite shot from the Dolores trip came from what Fielder described as one of the greatest campsites in the entire Southwest, in the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area. “Looking river left, there’s a sandstone overhang that shelters a sandy beach next to the river that eliminates the need for tents. It’s 150 feet high; and climbing up, one can get an extraordinary view looking downstream of the canyon and the river itself. At sunset, the river and the sun create the perfect angle and highlights ‒ the red rocks become blood red.”

At the April 13 event, Fielder will also show photos of areas of Browns Canyon that attendees likely have never visited. Fielder said one of the most beautiful place he’s ever been is in a remote part of the Weminuche Wilderness, and he’ll show the image if asked about it at the Salida event as it’s one that also appears in his book on mountain ranges of Colorado.

A cash bar and hors d’oeuvres by Kalamatapit Catering will be available. Tickets to the 7 p.m. event cost $25. Purchase tickets at the Salida SteamPlant Box Office, SalidaSteamPlant.com, the Salida Chamber of Commerce and Salida Mountain Sports. To support Friends of Browns Canyon or learn more, visit BrownsCanyon.org. If you are interested in viewing more of Fielder’s work, visit JohnFielder.com.

All of Fielder’s Colorado books will be for sale at the SteamPlant, and 30 percent of the proceeds will benefit Friends of Browns Canyon.