Author flies plane with one hand and shoots photos with the other to document Colorado River Basin |

Author flies plane with one hand and shoots photos with the other to document Colorado River Basin

Garrett Fisher used his vintage Piper PA-11 Cub Special as a photography platform that allowed him to capture images of the Colorado River and its major tributaries across Colorado's Western Slope for his new book
Tom Ross

— Author Garrett Fisher, a former Breckenridge resident, has pulled off a self-publishing feat that few could match.

With his left hand firmly on the control stick of his vintage Piper PA-11 Cub Special aircraft, and a camera in his right hand, Fisher compiled an impressive portfolio of photographs of the Colorado River Basin from on high and bound them up into a new book, “Where the Colorado River is Born.”

“I either shoot out the left window or the right door,” Fisher said Wednesday from his current home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “I steer with my left hand and shoot with my right hand.”

Improbably, he uses the stick and rudder to manipulate the aircraft to frame his shot while he’s looking through the viewfinder of the camera.

Fisher picked an opportune time to self-publish a book of aerial photos of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Its release comes as even the average water user on Colorado’s Western Slope is fretting over the implications of a draft of the state’s new water plan due to be finalized in December. The plan is intended to answer the question, “Where will Colorado get the water it needs to support its cities and towns, industry and agriculture in 2050 while conserving the natural environment?”

As Fisher wrote in the foreword, he does not bring a particular environmental or political stance to the book. Rather, he wants people to be able to see the scale of the mountainous landscape that gives rise to the waters that sustain millions of people in seven states.

“My purpose is to educate those who cannot see these places directly so that they may determine for themselves the condition of their water supply and what is to be done about it,” he wrote.

Fisher said his curiosity about the Colorado River Basin was first piqued by the peculiarities of Colorado water law and Western water policy. Growing up in the Northeast, he was accustomed to an abundance of water, and when he moved to Breckenridge in 2013, he was startled to discover that people can acquire water rights without acquiring the land attached to them.

“It seemed strange to me that water is so scarce that it can be deeded, yet so value-less that people will water lawns in the desert,” he said.

Then, the conservation organization American Rivers came out with its list of the most endangered rivers in America with the Colorado at the top of the list, and that got Fisher’s attention. He was already in the middle of shooting a project on Colorado’s peaks that are 14,000 feet and higher when it dawned on him that he already had many of the shots he would need for a book on the Colorado River system.

Fisher’s new book includes very little text beyond the articulate foreword that sets out his fear that water consumption exceeding what the Colorado has to give will result in a catastrophe.

Routt County readers will be interested in the author’s observation that “The socioeconomic jewels of the entire water system are the ski resorts.”

“Where the Colorado River is Born” is comprised primarily of photographs, but it’s not a coffee table book. Instead, think of it as a photographic atlas.

It’s organized in sets of photographs from the main stem of the river and others of its major tributaries. Each set of images is preceded by a map page with “pins” indicating where the images on each page were taken, along with brief descriptions of each photograph following their page number.

Readers will find themselves flipping back and forth between the directory pages and the images that catch their attention. A copy of the Colorado Gazetteer atlas might be a good companion to Fisher’s book. The strength of the book is the basin-wide view of the river system it provides, which can only be recorded from the sky by a talented pilot and photographer.

And yes, the Yampa River is included, although it’s not a direct tributary of the Colorado. Flowing instead into the Green River, the Yampa rises in the Flat Tops to make a major contribution to the Colorado further down the system in Utah.

“Where the Colorado River is Born,” created through the Amazon subsidiary Create Space, is also an example of a new egalitarian era in book publishing where authors don’t have to batter down the gates of major publishers to see their work in print.

“Where the Colorado River is Born” prints on demand and ships when orders are placed. However, it is also sold for $26 at Off the Beaten Path book store and coffee house, 68 Ninth St. in Steamboat Springs.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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