One Water, Many Currents

18th Annual Gila River Festival celebrates the many ways


As the Gila River receded from major flood stage after two days of heavy rain, my husband and I drove to the river, along with throngs of other Grant Countians, to experience the second highest flow ever recorded at the Gila gage. Our curiosity was more than satisfied as we watched the chocolate water quickly roll by from the safety of the historic Iron Bridge. We observed how flood waters spread across the floodplain and imagined how the river was providing nutrients to its riparian ecosystem and recharging groundwater.

Hydrology – the movement of water across the landscape – is a fascinating science and one of many topics we’ll be addressing at the 18th annual Gila River Festival - One Water, Many Currents – scheduled for Sept. 22 - 25 in Silver City, the Gila National Forest and along the Gila River.

The festival explores the ways water connects us and is the common thread weaving together the Gila River watershed's human and ecological communities of the past, present and into the future.

 The hybrid (in-person and virtual) event examines how the Gila River brings us together, investigates human relationships with the Gila River through our many uses of water and cultural perspectives related to water and facilitates understanding of the ecological systems of the Gila River watershed and human dependence on these systems.

This year’s keynote speaker, Nuevomexicana writer and biologist Leeanna Torres will talk Thursday, Sept. 22, about the Gila as a place of her querencia. Querencia is a word derived from two Spanish words. The first “querer” meaning to desire, or deeply love. The second word “herencia” meaning inheritance or heritage. What does it mean to belong to a place, to be tied to a space or landscape? And how does one’s individual relationship to place change over time? Similarly, how too does a community’s relationship to place change as conditions change?

On Friday, Sept. 23, “One River, Many People”, a panel discussion will examine the indigenous connections to the Gila River from its headwaters in New Mexico to the Great Bend of the Gila in southwest Arizona. Scheduled panelists are Archaeology Southwest's Tribal Outreach Fellow Skylar Begay, Gila River Indian Community historic preservation officer Barnaby Lewis, Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairwoman Lori Gooday Ware and moderated by Diné Park Ranger and Interpreter Alex Mares.

The keynote presentation and panel discussion will be held in person at the Western New Mexico University Global Resource Center Auditorium and online on Zoom and the Gila River Festival Facebook page @GilaRiverFestival.

Other presentations include a visual tour of the Gila Wilderness “After the Fire,” with landscape photographer Michael Berman and “A Life Entwined with the Gila: Reminiscences and Observations of a Rancher/Conservationist,” with living history actor, rancher and conservationist Neil Fuller and Silver City Museum Director Bart Roselli.

Designed to foster a deeper understanding of the Gila River, the festival offers a variety of field trips, such as birding, archaeology, butterflies, fly fishing, a family adventure at the Gila River Farm, and tours at the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site and a replica of a 14th century adobe structure with Archaeology Southwest.

On the “Hydrology Matters” field trip, hydrogeologist Dylan Duvergé will explore four different reaches of the Gila River that together will give participants a better understanding and appreciation of the symbiotic relationships between the hydrological sciences and ecosystem health, recreation and food production.

The Fort Sill Apache Fire Dancers with the Gooday Family will return again this year to present

the Dance of the Mountain Spirits. For many generations, the Chiricahua Apaches, now known as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, have performed “the Dance of the Mountain Spirits" to drive away sickness and evil and bring good health and good fortune. The event is 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24 at Regents Square on the Western New Mexico University Campus.

The festival closes Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Mogollon Box Day Use Area with a river blessing – “One River: Many Faiths, Many Cultures, Many Voices” – with Indigenous elders and faith leaders from different traditions.

For the full schedule and registration, visit