Featuring touchable objects, interactive technology, immersive environments and more, the Colorado River Traveling Exhibition will engage visitors in the complex story of the Colorado River. From prehistoric to modern times, visitors will connect with the Colorado River as a critical local, regional and global resource; learn how human and natural systems interact; discover the potential risks and consequences of human activities and natural events to people, environments and economies; and explore how their actions, stakeholder collaborations and innovation can help to sustain the river.
We’re Taking the River on the Road
When we see our own reflection in the river, we see the need for change.
Colorado River Exhibition
featuring immersive, interactive content
Optional Exhibition Components
for local content
5 Year Tour
1 million Visitors
The Exhibition is planned to tour in 2022, which marks the 100-year anniversary of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Exhibition is expected to begin its tour at museums in the seven states that make up the river’s basin, then tour nationally thereafter.
The Exhibition Concept
Museum exhibits are compelling tools that transcend facts and figures. Exhibits provide immersive experiences that connect people with trusted content.
The Colorado River Traveling Exhibition Conceptual Plan is the result of a year-long initiative to explore the viability and potential content of the project. The images and text contained within the conceptual plan are strictly conceptual. An advisory committee of diverse stakeholders, scholars and scientists will inform the final look, feel and content of the exhibition.
Provides foundational information, previews upcoming galleries, and sets exhibitionl tone.
Explores natural forces and considers how these forces shape the Colorado River.
Explores human connections to the river.
Explores transformation from natural waterway to a highly-engineered system.
Explores the complex issues surrounding the Colorado River’s short- and long-term water supply and demand challenges.
A journey down the Colorado River, transcending time, place, and political boundaries.
Meeting The River
This gallery is designed to provide foundational information, preview upcoming galleries so that visitors can pace their experience, and set the emotional tone for the experiences that follow.
The Colorado River begins as rain and snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains of the Upper Colorado River Basin. Taking shape as tributaries converge, the river flows through seven western U.S. states and the country of Mexico. Along its 1,450-mile journey, the river travels through a diverse landscape that includes mountains, forests, canyon lands, and desert environments. As the river moves into the Lower Colorado River Basin, it passes through two of North America’s driest deserts — the Mojave and Sonoran. Finally, the river reaches its delta in northern Mexico and the Gulf of California. With a drainage basin covering more than 246,000 square miles, the Colorado River serves as a lifeline to the people, plants, and animals that depend on its water.
- Scenic Diversity
- Intriguing Facts
- Gallery Previews
- The Colorado River begins as rain and snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains
- The Colorado River is geographically divided into upper and lower basins
- The Colorado River flows through seven western U.S. states and two countries (U.S. and Mexico)
- The Colorado River travels across diverse landscapes and sustains unique ecosystems
- The Colorado River is a powerful resource and a fragile ecosystem
- The Colorado River is a complex waterway with a rich history
Creating The River
This gallery explores natural forces constantly at play in the world around us and considers how these forces have shaped, and continue to shape, the Colorado River.
The Earth is constantly changing, driven by the energy from our planet’s core, and from the Sun. This energy creates, destroys, and recreates mountain ranges, oceans, deserts, and forests. Some 75 million years ago, this energy built up North America’s Rocky Mountains, and from the mountains came the river. Over millions of years the river has carved a long and winding path, forming desert lands and iconic landscapes such as the Grand Canyon. Humans have been on Earth for the blink of an eye, and recorded history is just a fraction of that time. But even in this brief period, the river’s course has shifted countless times.
- Colorado River Formation
- Historic River: Channel and Floodplains
Key Messages & Learning Objectives
- The Earth is constantly in motion due to natural forces, causing both subtle and drastic changes
- The Colorado River has been shaped by tectonic forces and by atmospheric processes
- The Colorado River works as an agent of change, shaping features in the basin and the delta over time
- The Colorado River’s flows are highly variable and include mega-droughts and floods
Relating To The River
This gallery explores human connections with the Colorado River and how groups of people and individuals have benefited from its resources throughout time.
The rich and complex story of the Colorado River traverses time, place, and people. Native Americans, early explorers, pioneers, conservationists, and modern-day consumers have all experienced the life-sustaining and sometimes turbulent flows of the Colorado River. In different times and places, we have seen the river as a source of spiritual beliefs, an uncharted territory to be explored, an invaluable economic engine, a place for recreation and inspiration, and a natural ecosystem that needs our protection. The importance of the river extends well beyond its geographic boundaries, providing food and economic value across the nation and beyond.
- Native Americans
- Early Explorers
- Conservationists Past and Present
- Farmers and Business Owners
- Tourism and Recreation
- Everyday Uses
Key Messages & Learning Objectives
- The Colorado River is a source of great cultural and economic significance to Native Americans
- Explorers took countless risks to travel and map the river in the 19th century
- Early and recent conservation efforts help protect the flora and fauna that rely on the river
- The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the West; its many uses are important to the region and beyond
- For many, our most intimate relationship with the river is our everyday use
Using The River
This gallery explores the transformation of the Colorado River from a natural waterway to a highly-engineered system, and considers how changing attitudes and perspectives have led to innovative approaches to balancing competing needs with available resources.
From untamed waterway to highly engineered system, the Colorado River has experienced a century of extraordinary change. Westward expansion in the late 1800s prompted the development of rules and agreements to govern the river’s flows. The turn of the 20th century marked an era of massive transformation: new dams, canals, aqueducts, pipelines, and other infrastructure were constructed to support storage needs, flood control, power generation, and the agricultural, municipal, and industrial needs of the river’s dependents. Over-allocation of resources and years of increasing demands upon the river during the 20th century have led to conflict. However, these issues have also prompted unprecedented levels of collaboration, innovation, and compromise — a philosophy that has set a new standard of cooperation among the river’s many stakeholders.
Expansion and Growth
1922 Compact and “Law of the River”
Infrastructure and Management
Value and Balance of Needs
The Colorado is governed by a complicated set of laws, court decrees, and decisions known as the “Law of the River”
The Colorado is over-allocated; more water is committed for use than is naturally replenished
The Colorado River is a highly-engineered system
The Colorado River has a history of conflict, but users are working together to find balance and solutions
There is both intrinsic and economic value for all of the rivers uses
Today, the Colorado River faces new and evolving challenges
Sustaining The River
This gallery explores the complex issues surrounding the Colorado River’s short- and long-term water supply and demand challenges. It also emphasizes the necessity of ongoing coordination, collaboration, and compromise in meeting our water needs in the future.
Drought and over-allocation in the Colorado River system have prompted challenges for the river and its stakeholders. Meanwhile, research indicates that ongoing innovation and cooperation are needed to meet the water resource supply needs of the next half-century. A 2012 study conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts a median 3.2 million acre-foot supply and demand gap by the year 2060. Addressing this issue is of critical importance to ensuring water resource availability for people, industry, and the environment. While there are many opportunities to explore, there is no singular solution; our actions have to be carefully considered and implemented in ways that limit impacts to communities, businesses, and the environment.
- Water Supply and Climate Variability
- Supply and Demand Imbalance
- Opportunities and Solutions
- Working Together
Key Messages & Learning Objectives
- The Colorado River has experienced severe and sustained drought
- Population growth and climate change are expected to exacerbate the supply and demand imbalance
- Sustainable solutions are needed to protect and preserve this vital resource
- There is no “silver bullet” solution; every approach has costs and benefits
- Meeting these challenges will require innovation, cooperation, financial resources, and commitment
Experiencing The River
This gallery takes visitors on a journey down the Colorado River—exploring it in a way that transcends time, place, and political boundaries. It uses an exciting and uplifting immersive experience to reinforce the key learning messages of the exhibition. The ultimate goal of Gallery 6—and of the entire exhibition—is to help visitors see the river in a new way, so that they are inspired to learn more about it and to preserve it for future generations.
The Colorado River is an extraordinary resource that provides direct and indirect benefits to residents, businesses, environments, and industries across the nation, and beyond. The final gallery in the exhibition invites visitors to reflect on what they have seen, heard, touched, and experienced on their passage through the exhibition.
- Cycle Flow
Key Messages & Learning Objectives
- The Colorado River encompasses diverse environments
- The story of the river is a rich natural and human history
- The demands we place on the river are extensive and wide-ranging
- The Colorado River is not an inexhaustible resource; we must use it wisely
Beyond The Exhibition
Visitors can engage in discussions and exploration beyond the exhibition. The project will include a speakers’ series, website, educational resources for K-12 and continuing engagement with the river.
Education for K-12
The exhibition will include pre- and post-visit educational curriculum to support K-12 field trip programs. Education materials will support the academic disciplines of the humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and will reflect the approaches used in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The exhibition will be accompanied by a speaker discussion series. Numerous scientists and humanities experts throughout the seven basin states and U.S. can offer compelling perspectives on a variety of topics related to the Colorado River, including history, culture, Native American heritage, conservation, literature, and engineering.
Curious minds can access information contained in the exhibition and dig deeper into the issues of interest by accessing the exhibition website. The site will include pre- and post-visit school curriculum, tour booking information, a calendar of events, and recognition and links to key exhibition partners/funders.