The Piedras Verdes River was the sole water supply for Colonia Juarez from its founding by American citizens in 1885 until 1948 when modern water-well drilling techniques made it possible to sink deep wells and relieve the pressure on the river for irrigation.
The Piedras Verdes (Green Rocks) was and still is, in reality, little more than a tree-lined creek for most of the year. It would change with the seasons, running full when late summer rains were plentiful but dwindling to a mere trickle the rest of the year. During the few weeks of heavy rains in the Sierra Madres, flash floods would rush through the town dividing it and suspending activities one side with the other. Great volumes of water would sweep by and were lost.
Reservoirs were beyond the economic means of the early Mormon colonists thus they were forced to let the water sweep by on its way to enrich lands far removed, and leave them nothing with which to battle water scarcity problems through the dry months. The sport of watching lariat experts snake in a season’s supply of firewood as timbers and driftwood floated by was one of the few diversions of the early settlers.
After my grandfather built a wagon bridge across the river, my Dad and one of his young buddies were watching the Mexican “log wranglers” at work from the middle of the bridge. One of the wranglers roped a big floating log and was pulled into the rushing, muddy waters. Dad and his friend saw the plight of the man as he thrashed in the water trying to keep his head above the foam and ran as fast as they could down the bank of the river, grabbing a rope as they went. When they got ahead of the drowning man, they threw a loop and between the two of them, pulling with all their might, were finally able to tow the man to shore and save his life.
On another occasion my high school-aged father and a friend were pursuing a favorite pastime exploring along the river when they heard the cries of some youngsters in obvious distress. Where the water from the river was diverted into an irrigation canal, there was a round hole in a vertical concrete slab that could be blocked with a wooden head gate to send the water into the canal. In the absence of the head gate, the young boys would take turns backing up to the hole with their rear ends to plug it so the water would get deep enough to dive into from the bank.
A problem developed when one boy’s rear end got stuck in the hole as the water pressure built up and his young friends were unable to pull him out. The water got deeper and deeper until it was over his head. My Dad and his buddy were able to get him out but, even though they used the latest emergency respiration techniques they had learned as Boy Scouts, it was too late and boy could not be revived.
And then it was Dad’s turn. “Near town,” he said, “there was a bend in the river that made a deep place that we called ‘The Nick.’ I was baptized there when I was eight years old. It was such a popular place for swimming in the summertime that the townspeople had designated certain days as swimming days for the boys and other days for the girls. My buddy and I were exploring along the river one hot summer day when we came to The Nick. It was the girls’ day to swim but there was nobody around so we stripped down to our underwear and took a refreshing dip in the cool water.
“We hadn’t been in long when a horse-drawn wagon loaded with girls arrived and, seeing us trespassing on their designated swimming day, jumped in to exert their rights. My friend scrambled up the bank, which left me to fend off the attack all by myself. There must have been a dozen of them, all intent on ducking me. When I was unable to come up for air during the melee, I really thought I was going to drown. Had they not mercifully backed off, I think I really would have been a goner. I don’t remember any other time when I thought I came as close to losing my life as I did at that time. Imagine being done in by a bunch of giggly girls!”
While attending high school in Colonia Juarez I came to love that little river. I have spent many an hour exploring its course through red rock canyons, apple orchards and tree-lined grottos. My wife and I have penetrated ancient Indian cliff dwellings that stand as silent sentinels overlooking the river at its highest elevations.
The Piedras Verdes still beckons to me like an old friend who knows countless untold stories I yearn to hear…